Clean Energy’s Boom Not Enough for Global Warming
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In recent years, global efforts to switch to more sustainable energy sources have been monumental. Not only is coal consumption set to plateau in China, we’re also expecting solar and wind power to become the most prominent sources of electricity in the coming years. However, despite these positive steps, we’re still not close to avoiding what would be considered dangerous levels of global warming by the International Energy Agency.
Each year, the agency releases a report detailing all global energy trends and this one looked ahead to 2040. Although the changing energy markets make predictions a little more difficult, they did conclude four key themes.
1. The End of the Coal Boom
Carbon dioxide emissions have been a huge problem in developing economies like India and China in recent years. Why? Because it’s simple and cheap. Now, China is leading the way toward natural gas, wind, solar, and nuclear energy. By 2025, their coal consumption is set to peak and, fifteen years later, renewables will be used more often than coal. Of course, coal isn’t going to disappear completely and consumption will still be higher than we need because many Asian plants are under two decades ol
2. Increases for Wind and Solar
The cost of both wind and solar has reduced in the last five years (15% and 65% respectively). According to the report, these costs will continue to reduce in the coming years thanks to government subsidies and improvements in technology. By 2040, renewable energy should supply around 40% of all electricity across the globe. This being said, the agency has been rather conservative about wind and solar in the past and this could be the case again.
Before moving on, we should note the agency’s warning that grids need to be ‘retooled’ in order to manage solar and wind output. What does this mean? New tools like hydrogen storage are likely to be explored and the rules governing how electricity markets operate will need to be overhauled.
3. Peak for Oil Still Pending
As the third theme, less oil is being used to fuel the hundreds of millions of new cars entering the road. By the mid-2020s, the agency expects global oil use to peak as a result of more electric vehicles and an increase to fuel-economy standards.
Yet, there’s a big difference between oil ‘peaking’ and ‘declining’. Passenger cars account for only 25% of all oil with the rest coming from airplanes, freight trucks, ships, making plastics, and for heating. Unfortunately, these industries haven’t had the same success with efficiency improvements. With this in mind, oil demand is set to expand even through 2040 and developing countries will head this expansion.
4. Unattainable Climate Goals
Finally, with these three themes in mind, and more information we couldn’t possibly cover here (but you’re welcome to read in the report itself!), the outcome is a failure in reaching global climate goals. In 2017 alone, global carbon dioxide emissions increased by 1.6% and this increase is expected to appear again in 2018. In fact, the report suggests increases until at least 2040.
Why can’t we reach the set targets? For one thing, although the growth in solar, wind, and nuclear energy has been impressive, it hasn’t been enough to cope with the overall energy demand growth. Especially noticeable in Southeast Asia, fossil fuels are still needed to fill the gaps.
Can this change? Governments will be pivotal if there’s even a small chance. Currently, state-owned companies invest around 70% of the $2 trillion that go towards energy infrastructure. Let’s hope their dedication to the energy industry continues (and even expands!). Also, it is important at a local level for people to become invested in making personal changes to the power they consume in their homes and businesses. Companies like Mpower Energy enable consumers to switch to renewable energy, and encourage communication on Facebook about issues surrounding sustainability.