100% renewable energy by 2050 "feasible and realistic", experts say

Tuesday, 04 April, 2017

The majority of experts surveyed for a study on the future of the world’s energy supply consider a global transition to 100% renewable energy to be both feasible and realistic.

The report was commissioned by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), a multistakeholder policy network that provides international leadership for the rapid transition to renewable energy. It was authored by Dr Sven Teske at the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures, who analysed the views of 114 renowned energy experts from every region of the world.

“There is an overwhelming consensus among the experts we interviewed that renewable power will dominate in the future, even with rising global energy demand,” Dr Teske said, with more than 70% of the experts interviewed considering a global transition to 100% renewable energy to be feasible and realistic.

Two thirds of experts even expect renewables to outpace fossil fuels economically within the next decade. As explained by Dr Teske, “Given the long planning and construction time of fossil fuel projects — new coal-fired power plants need around five to seven years — most fossil fuel infrastructure projects will be uneconomic by the time they are ready to produce energy. New fossil fuel projects are most likely stranded assets and dead at arrival.”

Meanwhile, more than 90% of the experts agree that renewable energy technologies serve to lower the barrier for communities to gain access to energy services. An estimated 100 million people now receive electricity via distributed renewable energy systems, and markets for such systems are growing rapidly.

The report did identify a number of challenges, with experts from Africa, the US and Japan somewhat sceptical about reaching 100% renewable energy supply in their own countries or regions by 2050 — largely due to the vested interests of the conventional energy industry. There is also the fact that drop-in solutions will not be sufficient to transform the transport sector, such as the replacement of combustion engines with electric drives; instead, a modal shift will be required (eg, from road to rail). Finally, the lack of long-term policy certainty and the absence of a stable climate for investment in energy efficiency and renewables hinder development in most countries.

“What we do this present moment is crucial,” said Dr Teske. “We need to see greater policy certainty at the national level to unlock an expansion and reduce carbon emissions rapidly to avoid dangerous climate change.”

“This report presents a wide range of expert opinions and is meant to spur discussion and debate about both the opportunities and challenges of achieving a 100% renewable energy future by mid-century,” added REN21 Executive Secretary Christine Lins. “Wishful thinking won’t get us there; only by fully understanding the challenges, and engaging in informed debate about how to overcome them, can governments adopt the right policies and financial incentives to accelerate the pace of deployment.”

The report is available at www.ren21.net/future-of-renewables/global-futures-report/.

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