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Renewable electricity could achieve majority of emission reductions needed to meet climate goals

A combination of renewable energy and electrification can reach 75% of the energy-related emission reductions necessary to meet global climate goals established by the Paris Agreement, a new report suggests.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) released the 2019 edition of its Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050. The report found that renewables like wind and solar could make up two-thirds of energy consumption and 86% of power generation by 2050, if the share of electricity in total energy use increases to 50% by the same year. It’s currently around 20%.

Renewable electricity paired with electrification could reduce CO2 emissions by 60% in total, on its own. IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera said in a release,

“The race to secure a climate safe future has entered a decisive phase. Renewable energy is the most effective and readily-available solution for reversing the trend of rising CO2 emissions. A combination of renewable energy with a deeper electrification can achieve 75 per cent of the energy-related emissions reduction needed.”

More than 1 billion electric vehicles would be the primary driver of increased electricity demand, according to IRENA’s roadmap. Electricity used for heat and the emergence of renewable hydrogen would also be major factors in that regard.

From a financial standpoint, the report estimates the global economy could save up to $160 trillion over the next 30 years if the outlined accelerated energy transition is followed. The money would be saved in energy subsidies, climate damages, and “avoided health costs.” Further, IRENA claims:

Every dollar spent on energy transition would pay off up to seven times. The global economy would grow by 2.5 percent in 2050.

The latest Roadmap 2050, like many similar studies, stresses the need for a faster energy transition, with stronger policies and additional investment.

Renewables Over Carbon Capture

While IRENA touts the potential of renewables, a separate report in the Nature Energy journal this week compares the value of investing in renewables to investing in carbon capture and storage (CCS) at fossil fuel power plants.

Researchers conclude there’s no debate. While wind and solar are already deployed at scale and have plenty of opportunity for expansion — and plenty of need, as the IRENA report notes — there are concerns about bringing CCS to scale. Particularly, the amount of energy used to deploy CCS plants at scale is higher than the amount of energy used to deploy renewables. This measurement is called “energy return on energy invested” or EROI/EROEI. The abstract notes:

We estimate the electrical energy return on energy invested ratio of CCS projects, accounting for their operational and infrastructural energy penalties, to range between 6.6:1 and 21.3:1 for 90% capture ratio and 85% capacity factor. These values compare unfavourably with dispatchable scalable renewable electricity with storage, which ranges from 9:1 to 30+:1 under realistic configurations. Therefore, renewables plus storage provide a more energetically effective approach to climate mitigation than constructing CCS fossil-fuel power stations.

Electrek’s Take

Renewable energy now makes up a third of global power capacity, but still only about a quarter of global power output. As the International Energy Agency and World Economic Forum have noted in their own recent reports, while there’s been progress, so much more can be done. Many object to the building of renewable energy, thinking that it will “cost too much,” but analyses like these and others show that building out renewable energy won’t cost us money — it will save us money.

We need to think ambitiously and enact policies that accelerate renewable adoption. Our situation requires it, renewables are ready, and they can be deployed profitably.

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Phil Dzikiy is an Editor/Writer with Electrek/9to5Mac. Tips: