IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy

Many of my fellow instructors probably share my trepidation in discussing all of the potentially dire implications of climate change without a commensurate dollop of hope. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s new report on the potential for renewable energy would be an excellent student reading in that it both reflects optimism and a dose of realism in terms of the future prospects for de-carbonizing the world’s economy. Among the key take-aways from the Report’s Summary for Policymakers:

  1. Renewable energy accounted for 12.9% of primary energy supply, of which 10.2% is from biomass energy, 60% of which is traditional biomass from cooking and heating applications;
  2. Of the approximate 300MW of new electricity generating capacity developed from 2008-2009, approximately half came from renewable energy sources;
  3. The global total energy potential of renewable energy outstrips projected demand;
  4. The future potential of bioenergy will be substantially influenced by climatic conditions, including the future for bioenergy. However, there are substantial uncertainties in this context;
  5. Some renewable energy sources are currently competitive with fossil fuels, though many still need incentives. Capturing the externalities of fossil fuel sources would help to increase competitiveness;
  6. Life cycle assessments of electricity production from renewable energy yield substantial reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. ” The median values for all RE are ranging from 4 to 46 g CO 2eq/kWh while those for fossil fuels range from 469 to 1001g CO2-eq/kWh;”
  7. On the basis of 164 scenarios, the study found that renewable energy sources could contribute  in excess of a 17% share of primary energy supply in 2030 rising to more than 27% in 2050. “The scenarios with the highest RE.shares reach approximately 43% in 2030 and 77% in 2050;”
    1.  Potential global cumulative CO2 savings between 2010 and 2050 range from about 220 to 560 Gt CO 2 compared to about 1530 Gt cumulative fossil and industrial CO2 emissions in the IEA World Energy Outlook 2009. Only a maximum of 2.5% of technologically possible renewable energy production is assumed in these scenarios;
  8. A number of policies have proven effective in fostering increased use of renewable energy, including feed-in tariffs, fiscal inncentives by governments, and fuel mandates or blending requirements (transportation sector);
  9. Two markets failures that diminish deployment of renewable energy include the failure to capture the market externalities associated with greenhouse gas emissions and innovative market failure, i.e. firms underestimating the future benefits of investment into learning renewable energy technologies.

Among the discussion questions that could grow out of this reading include the following:

  1. Should biomass associated with burning of forest resources be considered a renewable energy source given the negative enviornmental consequences of deforestation associated with many of these technologies?;
  2. What are the primary factors that explain the large gap between technologically feasible le3evels of renwable energy production and projected levels of deployment?
  3. What methods could governments use to capture externalities?
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