Inconvenient truth: Current technologies, policies, and innovation are not enough to meet climate goals

Posted on 19 November 2013

Unprecedented uncertainty is leading to short-termism in energy investments, according to the World Energy Council’s World Energy Scenarios report

COP-19, Warsaw, Poland, 19 November 2013: The world is set to face several significant challenges in balancing global energy needs in addressing the triple challenge of the energy trilemma over the next four decades, according to the World Energy Council report, “World Energy Scenarios: Composing energy futures to 2050”.

The WEC study assesses two policy scenarios: the more consumer-driven Jazz scenario, and the more voter-driven Symphony scenario, which places greater focus on climate change mitigation and adaption.  The myth-busting report highlights that energy demand is set to double by 2050, driven by non-OECD growth. To meet this growing demand, total primary energy supply is set to increase by between 61% and 27%.

WEC analysis in the World Energy Scenarios shows that despite significant growth in the relative contribution of renewables from 15% today to between 20% and 30% in 2050, in absolute terms the volume of fossil fuels used to meet global energy demand will be 16,000 MTOE in the Jazz (the more consumer-driven scenario) and 10,000 MTOE in Symphony (the more voter-driven scenario), compared to 10,400 MTOE in 2010. This represents a 55% increase in Jazz but only a 5% decrease in the absolute amount of fossil fuels used in Symphony by 2050.

Christoph Frei, Secretary of the World Energy Council, said:

“The inconvenient truth is: we are looking in the wrong place to address the issues facing the energy sector. The focus of current thinking about the energy system is biased and inadequate. If we are to deliver sustainable energy systems, the focus must shift from the supply mix to demand efficiency. We need more demand-side investments, innovation, incentives, and stronger technical standards to reduce energy intensity.”

The report finds that some renewables will experience exponential growth, to reach 20% in Jazz and 30% in Symphony by 2050. In particular, the use of solar for electricity generation is set to increase by up to a staggering 225 times over 2010 levels. Currently solar power only accounts for just over 34 TWh/y in the electricity generation mix, but it could provide somewhere between 2,980 TWh and 7,740 TWh in 2050. This equates to between US$2,950 billion and US$9,660 billion of investment in solar, representing the largest potential investment area of any renewable energy resource.

However, fossil fuels will ultimately remain the dominant energy source supplying between 77% and 59% of the global primary energy mix.

Karl Rose, Senior Director, Policies and Scenarios at the World Energy Council, said: “While there will be opportunities in the future for a range of technology solutions, the ultimate issue is that demand continues to grow at an unsustainable rate. One of the most significant findings in the report is the strong regional variation of priorities and solutions in the energy system. Too often we look at the world as one entity and seek global solutions but the reality is very different and this needs to be recognised.”

In light of these energy realities, even in the best case the world will see a near doubling of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at 490-535 ppm CO2 equivalent by 2050 compared with 1990 levels.  At worst, GHG emissions could increase to between 590 and 710 ppm. A significant reduction of CO2 emissions is possible after 2020 in the Symphony scenario; however, it still leaves emissions almost at double the amount compared to 1990 levels.

In order to meet the growing electricity needs, the world will need to invest from US$19 trillion in Jazz to over US$25 trillion in Symphony for electricity generation alone, with the majority of investments required being directed towards solar PV, hydro and wind.

Christoph Frei added:

“The financing challenge is vast but the current lack of climate framework clarity is leading to short-term investment decisions to satisfy current demand trends. We need drastic action from policymakers and industry to make concerted efforts to align and reduce the policy risk of energy investments.

“Our findings challenge our understanding of and current ability to deliver the resilient infrastructure that we need to face the changes we expect to occur over the coming decades. At a time of unprecedented uncertainty, our scenarios provide a stark warning for our energy and climate future.”

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The full findings of the “World Energy Scenarios: Composing energy futures to 2050” study are made available free of charge on: www.worldenergy.org/publications.

The WEC’s press conference on this study can be watched on-demand on the UNFCCC website:

http://unfccc4.meta-fusion.com/kongresse/cop19/templ/ovw_live.php?id_kongressmain=259

 

About the World Energy Scenarios

The WEC’s World Energy Scenarios use an explorative approach to assess what is actually happening in the world now, to help gauge what will happen in the future. The report’s conclusions follow a three-year study conducted by over 60 experts from nearly 30 countries, with modelling provided by the Paul Scherrer Institute, Switzerland’s largest research centre for natural and engineering sciences.

A key differentiator between the scenarios is the ability of countries to pass the Doha Climate Gateway, the final deal made at last year’s COP where countries set the deadline to hammer out a new global agreement to in 2015. The WEC assumes that in Symphony, countries successfully negotiate a global treaty, while in Jazz the negotiations fail, and regions, countries, states and municipalities take their own sustainable development pathways.