Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Renewables: Dangerously positive news

Renewable energy could account for almost 80% of the world's energy supply within four decades - but only if governments pursue the policies needed to promote green power, according to a landmark report published on Monday, by the IPCC. It also concludes that - The technical potential of renewable energy technologies exceeds the current global energy demand by a considerable amount—globally and in respect of most regions of the world
This and similar messages are reported by the Guardian,
Renewable energy world
Huffington Post
International Herald Tribune

And well, it is quite obvious that renewable energy, in particular solar energy, can provide us with more energy than we use. But the report fails to discuss at what price. And here I don't refer only to costs in money, but even more harm on nature. The harm of hydropower dams is well known, biofuels production has the potential to compete with food production etc. And so does solar. A photovoltaic element has an energy efficiency of something like 10-15 percent, while crops only bind 1% or 2% of the energy. And we can put up solar panels all over the place. Solar panels are already put up on prime agriculture land.

I have read the IPCC summary, and think it is a bit strange that all articles and press releases are taking up this figure of 80% of the energy from renewables. That is the result of the most positive of 164 scenarios, while the least positive says 15%, which is just slightly more than today (12%). In addition the most positive scenario also assumes that total energy consumption will increase very little in forty years, while all indications are that it will increase a lot. "In the New Policies Scenario – the central scenario this year – world primary energy demand increases by 36% between 2008 and 2035, or 1.2% per year on average. This compares with 2% per year over the previous 27-year period." says IEA.

I am a great fan of solar energy and also of other renewable energy forms. But I also see their limitations. It makes me worried when their potential is "oversold". I do think it is realistic that they could contribute 80% of energy in 2050, but only provided that there is substantial savings on total energy use, a net reduction of energy use; that energy prices are at least doubled and that governments abolish perverse subsidies for fossil fuel and redirect investments in renewable.

The effects of reports as the one above can rather be negative; it makes people believe, again, that technical solutions will be found, which allows us to continue with business as usual. And that is the real danger. Very few will read and analyze the real content of reports like this.

1 comment:

  1. A perceptive analysis. I felt exactly like you after reading the report. I feel this report of IPCC is doing more harm than good by giving a rosy picture. I am surprised that the chairman of IPCC who should know the practical reality of reducing fossil fuel subsidy in developing countries had put his signature to this report.

    Bhamy Shenoy an energy student