the energy [r]evolution concept
The expert consensus is that a fundamental shift in the way we consume and generate energy must begin immediately and be well underway within the next ten years in order to avert the worst impacts of climate change.2 The scale of the challenge requires a complete transformation of the way we produce, consume and distribute energy, while maintaining economic growth. Nothing short of such a revolution will enable us to limit global warming to a rise in temperature of lower than 2°C, above which the impacts become devastating. This chapter explains the basic principles and strategic approach of the Energy [R]evolution concept, which have formed the basis for the scenario modelling since the very first Energy [R]evolution scenario published in 2005. However, this concept has been constantly improved as technologies develop and new technical and economical possibilities emerge.
Current electricity generation relies mainly on burning fossil fuels in very large power stations which generate carbon dioxide and also waste much of their primary input energy. More energy is lost as the power is moved around the electricity network and is converted from high transmission voltage down to a supply suitable for domestic or commercial consumers. The system is vulnerable to disruption: localised technical, weather-related or even deliberately caused faults can quickly cascade, resulting in widespread blackouts. Whichever technology generates the electricity within this old fashioned configuration, it will inevitably be subject to some, or all, of these problems. At the core of the Energy [R]evolution therefore there are changes both to the way that energy is produced and distributed.
2.1 key principles
The Energy [R]evolution can be achieved by adhering to five key principles:
- Respect natural limits – phase out fossil fuels by the end of this century. We must learn to respect natural limits. There is only so much carbon that the atmosphere can absorb. Each year we emit almost 30 billion tonnes of carbon equivalent; we are literally filling up the sky. Geological resources of coal could provide several hundred years of fuel, but we cannot burn them and keep within safe limits. Oil and coal development must be ended. The global Energy [R]evolution scenario has a target to reduce energy related CO2 emissions to a maximum of 3.5 Gigatonnes (Gt) by 2050 and phase out over 80% of fossil fuels by 2050.
- Equity and fair access to energy As long as there are natural limits there needs to be a fair distribution of benefits and costs within societies, between nations and between present and future generations. At one extreme, a third of the world’s population has no access to electricity, whilst the most industrialised countries consume much more than their fair share. The effects of climate change on the poorest communities are exacerbated by massive global energy inequality. If we are to address climate change, one of the principles must be equity and fairness, so that the benefits of energy services – such as light, heat, power and transport – are available for all: north and south, rich and poor. Only in this way can we create true energy security, as well as the conditions for genuine human wellbeing. The global Energy [R]evolution scenario has a target to achieve energy equity as soon as technically possible. By 2050 the average per capita emission should be between 0.5 and 1 tonne of CO2.
- Implement clean, renewable solutions and decentralise energy systems There is no energy shortage. All we need to do is use existing technologies to harness energy effectively and efficiently. Renewable energy and energy efficiency measures are ready, viable and increasingly competitive. Wind, solar and other renewable energy technologies have experienced double digit market growth for the past decade. Just as climate change is real, so is the renewable energy sector. Sustainable, decentralised energy systems produce fewer carbon emissions, are cheaper and are less dependent on imported fuel. They create more jobs and empower local communities. Decentralised systems are more secure and more efficient. This is what the Energy [R]evolution must aim to create. To stop the earth’s climate spinning out of control, most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves – coal, oil and gas – must remain in the ground. Our goal is for humans to live within the natural limits of our small planet.
- Decouple growth from fossil fuel useStarting in the developed countries, economic growth must be fully decoupled from fossil fuel usage. It is a fallacy to suggest that economic growth must be predicated on their increased combustion. We need to use the energy we produce much more efficiently, and we need to make the transition to renewable energy and away from fossil fuels quickly in order to enable clean and sustainable growth.
- Phase out dirty, unsustainable energy We need to phase out coal and nuclear power. We cannot continue to build coal plants at a time when emissions pose a real and present danger to both ecosystems and people. And we cannot continue to fuel the myriad nuclear threats by pretending nuclear power can in any way help to combat climate change. There is no role for nuclear power in the Energy [R]evolution.