Energy policy has a dramatic impact across the social, political and economic spectrum. Governments and businesses must focus on the fact that energy is the lifeblood of the economy. For scientists, the crucial matter is the threat of climate change brought about by burning fossil fuels. NGOs concentrate on the environmental and social impacts, and economists on the potential of a shift in the way our energy is produced. For engineers, the task is developing new technologies to supply and consume energy in a smarter way. But at the end of the day, we are all consumers and we all must deal with the full reality of our energy system—from volatile prices to oil spills. Access to sufficient energy is vital to making our economies work but at the same time, our demand for energy has become the main source of the greenhouse gas emissions that put our climate at risk. Something needs to change.
While the last two climate summits in Copenhagen and Cancun failed to produce an agreement, international negotiations to address the issue remain high on the political agenda. At the same time, highly volatile fossil fuel prices are creating more and more uncertainty for the global economy, creating an indirect incentive for investing in renewable energy technologies, which are now booming. Against this backdrop, the third edition of the Energy [R]evolution analysis takes a deep plunge into what’s possible in terms of energy supply strategies for the future and how to develop a sustainable energy and climate policy.
Access to energy is of strategic importance for every country in the world. Over the past few years oil prices have gone up and down like a rollercoaster, jumping to a record high in July 2008 of US$147,27 and then falling back again to US$33,87 in December. Even so, over the whole of 2009 the average oil price was still between US$60 and US$80 per barrel. At the same time, with gas prices in Europe rising in line with the price of oil, the impact on both the heating and power sectors has been huge.
Security of energy supply is not only influenced by the cost of fuels, however, but by their long term physical availability. Countries without their own fossil fuel supplies have increasingly shown interest in renewable energy sources, not only because of the price stability this brings but because they are indigenous and locally produced.
Renewable energy technologies produce little or no greenhouse gases and rely on virtually inexhaustible natural elements for their ‘fuel’. Some of these technologies are already competitive. The wind power industry, for example, has continued its explosive growth in the face of a global recession and is a testament to the inherent attractiveness of renewable technology. In 2009 the total level of annual investment in clean energy was US$145 billion, only a 6,5% drop from the record previous year, while the global wind power market grew by an annual 41,5%. In the US alone, the wind industry grew by nearly 40%. The renewable energy industry now employs around two million people worldwide and has become a major feature of national industrial development plans. In the US, wind already employs more people than coal. Meanwhile, the economics of renewables are expected to further improve as they develop technically, and as the price of fossil fuels continues to rise and as their saving of carbon dioxide emissions is given a monetary value. These cost comparisons, already favorable to renewables, don’t even account for the massive externalized costs of fossil fuels such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Despite the small drop in fossil fuel emissions in the industrialized world as a result of the economic crisis, globally the level of energy related carbon dioxide continues to grow. This means that a recovered economy will result in increasing CO2 emissions once again, further contributing to the greenhouse gases which threaten our planet. A shift in energy policy is needed so that a growing economy and reduced CO2 emissions can go hand in hand. The Energy [R]evolution analysis shows how this is possible.
After Copenhagen, governments need to increase their ambition to reduce emissions and invest even more in making the energy revolution happen. Greenpeace believes that it is feasible to reach a Fair Ambitious Binding (FAB) deal in Durban at the end of this year, if there is sufficient political will to conclude such an agreement. That political will seems to be lacking at the moment. But even if a FAB deal cannot be finalised in Durban, due to lack of ambition and commitment by some countries, major parts could still be in place, specifically those related to long term financing commitments, forest protection and an overall target for emission reductions. The result would be that by the time of the Environment and Development Summit in Brazil in 2012 we would be celebrating an agreement that definitely keeps the world’s temperature well below 2 degrees warming.
advanced energy [r]evolution 2010
Greenpeace has published three global Energy [R]evolution scenarios since January 2007, each analysis deeper than the last. In the second edition we introduced specific research for the transport sector and an investigation of the pathway to future investment in renewable energies. Since then we have published country-specific scenarios for over 30 countries and regions, added a study of the employment implications of the scenarios and a detailed examination of how the grid network needs to be improved and adapted.
The Energy [R]evolution not only includes the financial analysis and employment calculations in parallel with the basic projections, we have also added a second, more ambitious Advanced Energy [R]evolution scenario. This was considered vital because rapid improvements in climate science made it clear during 2009 that a global 50% reduction in energy related CO2 emissions by 2050 might not be enough to keep the global mean temperature rise below +2°C. An even greater reduction may be needed if runaway climate change is to be avoided.
The Advanced Energy [R]evolution scenario has changed five parameters compared to the Basic version. These mean that the economic lifetime of coal power stations has been reduced from 40 to 20 years, the growth rate of renewables has taken the advanced projections of the renewable industry into account, the use of electric drives in the transport sector will take off ten years earlier, the expansion of smart grids will happen quicker, and last but not least, the expansion of fossil fuel based energy will stop after 2015.
A drastic reduction in CO2 levels and a share of over 80% renewables in the world energy supply are both possible goals by 2050. Of course this will be a technical challenge, but the main obstacle is political. We need to kick start the Energy [R]evolution with long lasting reliable policy decisions within the next few years. It took more than a decade to make politicians aware of the climate crisis; we do not have another decade to agree on the changes needed in the energy sector. Greenpeace and the renewables industry present the Energy [R]evolution scenario as a practical but ambitious blueprint. For the sake of a sound environment, political stability and thriving economies, now is the time to commit to a truly secure and sustainable energy future – a future built on energy efficiency and renewable energy, economic development and the creation of millions of new jobs for the next generation.