"Energy [R]evolution"
“Energy [R]evolution”

Greenpeace International and the European Renewable Energy Council have produced a report titled: “Energy [R]evolution: A Sustainable World Energy Outlook” which provides a detailed blueprint for cutting carbon emissions while achieving economic growth by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy and energy efficiency. Acopy of the full 212-page report is here; a 16-page summary is here.

Under the Energy [R]evolution scenario, global CO2 emissions would peak in 2015 and drop afterwards. Compared with 1990 CO2 emissions would be more than 80% lower by 2050. The report says that by 2050 around 95% of electricity could be produced by renewable energy.

The report also says that this phase-out of fossil fuels offers substantial additional benefits such as energy security, independence from world market fuel prices as well as the creation of millions of new green jobs.

By 2015 global power supply sector jobs in the Energy [R]evolution scenario are estimated to reach about 11.1 million, 3.1 million more than in the business-as-usual Reference scenario. By 2020 over 6.5 million jobs in the renewables sector would be created due a much faster uptake of renewables, three-times more than today.

The report finds that this can be achieved with proven technologies by adhering to five key principles:

  • Equity and fairness
  • Respecting natural limits
  • Phasing out dirty, unsustainable energy
  • Implementing renewable solutions and decentralising energy systems
  • Decoupling growth from fossil fuel use.

Equity and Fairness

The report says that efficiency measures could allow industrialised countries to decrease energy consumption by 20% over the next 10 years while allowing developing countries to increase their consumption by 20%. The net global effect would be a saving of 70 exajoules – about equivalent to Europe’s entire current energy consumption.

The energy efficency measures needed to achieve this are improved design and insulation of homes and offices, strict mandatory efficiency standards for electrical appliances and replacement of electrical heaters and hot water systems with solar systems.

Respecting Natural Limits

Readily available oil is becoming scarce and, while there is sufficient coal to allow us to keep burning it for possibly hundreds of years, there is only so much carbon that the atmosphere can absorb. Electrification of the transport system is seen as crucial, initially through greater electrification of the public transport sytem and a shift from road to rail for freight, with electric vehicles playing a large role from about 2025.

Phasing Out Dirty Energy

The report says that the single biggest contributor to global greenhouse emissions is burning coal. By greatly increasing the amount of renewable energy in our system, using gas as a transitional fuel, we can start removing coal fired power from the grid, shutting them down at the end of their working life. More than half of the coal-fired power stations in industrialised countries are already more than 20 years old.

From 2020 onwards, the coal electricity share could starts to decrease. By 2020, 30% of the currently operating coal power plants in industrialised
countries should be retired and replaced by a mix of renewable, co-generation and energy efficiency.

Australia should take coal-fired power station off the grid at a rate of more than one a year; with coal-fired power being entirely phased out by 2030.

Carbon capture and storage is excluded from projections as being too uncertain at this stage.

The report does not envisage any role for nuclear energy, which is described as “a relatively minor industry with major problems”.

Renewable and Decentralised Energy

The report syas that we need to change the way we produce energy from large centralised power stations towards a decentralised energy system using large-scale renewable resources which use locally available energy sources such as wind, sun or geothermal, and to use cogeneration to end the huge amounts of energy wasted via cooling towers.

It is estimated that the total energy which could be produced from all of the renewable sources which are technically possible by 2050 amounts to 32 times the amount of energy required by the whole world. By 2020, using just 1.3% of the known available renewable energy resources of the developed countries would meet 21% of global energy needs.

Decoupling Growth from Fossil Fuel Use

Action which needs to be taken immediately includes:

  • Phasing out all subsidies for fossil fuels
  • Internalising the social and environmental costs of fossil fuel production through emission trading
  • Guaranteeing priority access to the electricity grid for renewable power generators
  • Providing defined and stable returns to investors such as feed-in tariffs.