TODAY’S STUDY: HOW BIG WORLD WIND CAN GET
Global Wind Energy Outlook 2014
October 2014 (Greenpeace and Global Wind Energy Council)
Momentum for Change?
After the collapse of the last Big Climate Summit in Copenhagen in 2009, for many if not most people the climate issue was ‘over’, or at least the hope of serious action by governments was over. Fatigue, shattered expectations, disappointment and despair drove away all but the scientists, hard-core activists and civil servants whose job it is to keep the talks going.
But climate change is back – bigger and badder than ever, and we have an opportunity to make a big step forward in the run up to the next Big Summit in Paris in December 2015. It’s urgent that we get it right this time. For those who don’t have the patience to plow through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest assessment report – it’s 5th since 1990 – you don’t have to go any further than your local newspaper, or your favorite web page:
‘Super typhoon’ Haiyan which wrought devastation in the Philippines;
Hurricane Sandy which put lower Manhattan out of business;
Frightening new evidence about the instability and vulnerability of the Greenland ice sheet, whose collapse would cause seven meters of global sea level rise, at the end of the day. Goodbye London, New York, Shanghai, Tokyo…
Projections of extreme weather damage of one trillion USD/year by mid-century;
…the list goes on. Oh, and California’s Central Valley is out of water. That’s right - out of water. There are communities that haven’t had water running in their taps for five months now - can’t flush their toilets; no showers. For the moment, they’re getting their drinking water from the fire department, although it’s not clear how much longer that will last.
The 400,000 people who marched in the run up to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit in New York in September have gotten the message. So have the many major corporations who were reported to have pounded the table behind closed doors in New York demanding action; and so have the struggling farmers in India, sub-Saharan Africa, California and Australia.
Retooling Just About The Entirety Of Human Civilization
The good news is that unlike 25 years ago when the climate issue first emerged, and indeed even unlike five years ago in Copenhagen, we have the technology to solve the problem, and to do so cost effectively. “It doesn’t cost the earth to save the planet”, said IPCC Working Group III Chairman Ottmar Edenhofer when unveiling the IPCC’s latest work on climate mitigation. Wind and solar are taking over the power sector. Electric mobility and improved battery technology is on the rise. Improved materials science, energy efficiency equipment and practices, and an almost inexhaustible list of other technologies and innovation have given us the tools we need, or at least most of them; and the rest can be picked up along the way.
Not to say that it’s going to be easy – we’re talking about retooling just about the entirety of human civilization in the next 40 years – which, by the way, we’re probably going to do anyway; the question is whether we do it right this time, at least in terms of the climate.
The much greater obstacle lies in the political, economic and institutional inertia which have bogged down the discussion for too long now. The fossil fuel industry, the most powerful vested interest in the world today, continues to do everything it can to obfuscate the science and slow down political progress. Not their least pernicious influence is on the politicians they own, particularly those in the US Congress – and in the places where the fossil fuel industry is a family business masquerading as a national government in the Persian Gulf – and in the places where fossil fuel exports have become a blunt political and military instrument to bludgeon recalcitrant neighbours into submission.
But we have a chance to change all that.
The dramatic progress of wind and solar technologies over the past decades have brought us to the point where the vision of a clean sustainable energy future for our whole economy is well within reach, and has become the explicit policy direction of an increasing number of countries.
Further, for those who attended the march in New York and the subsequent summit, there is once again a positive feeling, a palpable momentum for change. The trick will be to turn that into instructions from politicians to their civil servants, including but not limited to those who are negotiating towards Paris in 2015. At the end of the day, it is governments which will set the frameworks at national and international level; who determine the extent to which we can succeed in the time required.
For time is the one thing we don’t have – not much, anyway. All of the science indicates global emissions need to peak in the next five years if we are to have any reasonable chance of avoiding the worst ravages of man-made climate change, i.e., keeping global mean temperature rise below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Or, if you happen to depend upon a vulnerable coral reef ecosystem, if you have extensive low-lying coastal territory, or if you live on a low lying island in the Pacific, Caribbean or Indian Ocean, then you’d prefer that global mean temperature rise be kept below 1.5°C.
To preserve a chance to reach either of those targets, then there is one clear and immediate imperative: global emissions must peak and begin to decline before the end of this decade – which is not impossible, but it’s getting increasingly difficult; and the longer we wait the more expensive it will be.
The power sector isn’t the whole problem, but it is the largest single contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions – about 40% of energy related CO2 emissions, and about 25% of overall greenhouse gas emissions. If we want to make a difference in that sector in the next 5-10 years, then we don’t have a lot of options. First and foremost, we need massive and rapid implementation of existing energy efficiency and energy saving technologies and practices, which will yield the greatest benefit in the shortest period of time. Secondly, no new coal plants should be built, and fuel-switching from coal to gas should be implemented wherever possible.
And finally, continue and accelerate the dramatic growth of renewable generation technologies – and although solar makes a significant contribution in the period after 2020, and may be the largest energy source of all by 2050, in the next 5 to 10 years the big contribution to emission reductions will come from hydro and wind. That’s what we should focus on.
This edition of the Global Wind Energy Outlook shows what could be done with the right political support in the period out to 2020, and subsequently to 2030. On our current trajectory we will very likely displace about 1 billion tonnes of CO2 per year by 2020, and it could be as much as 1.2 billion tonnes/year with the right support; and for the period between 2020 and 2030, we’ll probably get to two billion tonnes or so per year muddling along as we have been, but that could be three billion tonnes or more per year by that time. New and refurbished hydro can deliver reductions on a similar scale, and solar will begin to make a larger difference in the period after 2020. But with unequivocal political will to transform our energy system which is required to meet the climate challenge, it could be even more.
As an old friend of mine from Citibank is fond of saying, “We’re in the middle of a 100-year transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewables – and we’re winning, at least in the marketplace”. Yes, we’re winning, but are we winning fast enough to save the planet? Actually, not the planet – the planet will be fine – the question is whether we will win fast enough to save human civilization. Some say the planet would be better off if we weren’t around to pollute the air, water and land. But I prefer to think of it as a golden opportunity to demonstrate the capability of our species to evolve to the next stage.
As Morgan Freeman said in a recent film he narrated for the New York Summit: “One day very soon we’ll be asked, ‘what did we do?’…and we’ll say,’ We did everything we could.’ We have to. Because if we don’t, there won’t be anyone left to ask.”
Three Visions Of The Future
The Global Wind Energy Outlook explores the future of the wind energy industry out to 2020, 2030 and up to 2050. With the International Energy Agency’s New Policies scenario from the World Energy Outlook as a baseline, we have developed two scenarios especially for this publication: the GWEO Moderate scenario and the GWEO Advanced scenario.
The GWEO Moderate and Advanced scenarios have evolved over the years as a collaboration between the Global Wind Energy Council, Greenpeace International and the German Aerospace Centre (Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft-und-Raumfahrt – DLR). These scenarios for the future of the wind industry have contributed to an ongoing series of broader studies on global sustainable energy pathways up to 2050 conducted by DLR and Greenpeace in collaboration with a number of industry associations including GWEC. The ‘Energy [R]evolution’ scenario’, or ‘2° Scenario’, has become one of the benchmarks in international energy scenario discussions, utilized by the IPCC, IEA and others.
The upheaval in electricity markets around the globe, the wild swings in policy both in favor of and against renewable energy deployment and the uncertain future of the global climate regime make predictions about the future of this or any other industry even more difficult than usual. However, it is also the case that as wind power plays a more and more central role in our electricity system, that the various scenarios from industry, the IEA, NGOs and others all begin to converge. Here we present each of the three scenarios for each of the 10 IEA-defined regions as well as global totals, looking towards 2020 and 2030 – with longer term projections out to 2050 in the Annex table. A brief description of the underlying assumptions and orientation of each scenario is listed below.
IEA New Policies Scenario
Originally, we used the IEA World Energy Outlook’s ‘Reference’ scenario as the baseline for this exercise. However, that scenario has been renamed the ‘Current Policies’ scenario and is no longer the central scenario against which variations are tested within the WEO framework, as it is clear that continuing the status quo is unlikely in the extreme.
The ‘New Policies’ scenario is based on an assessment of current directions and intentions of both national and international energy and climate policy, even though they may not yet have been incorporated into formal decisions or enacted into law. Examples of this would include the emissions reduction targets adopted in Cancun in 2010, the various commitments to renewable energy and efficiency at national and regional levels, and commitments by governments in such fora as the G-8/G-20 and the Clean Energy Ministerial. The New Policies scenario is now at the center of the WEO analysis; the version which appears in the 2013 WEO runs out to 2035 and we have extrapolated it out to 2050 for comparison purposes.
GWEO Moderate Scenario
The GWEO ‘Moderate’ scenario has many of the same characteristics as the IEA New Policies scenario, taking into account all policy measures to support renewable energy either already enacted or in the planning stages around the world, and at the same time assuming that the commitments for emissions reductions agreed by governments at Cancun will be implemented, although on the modest side. At the same time it takes into account existing and planned national and regional targets for the uptake of renewable energy in general and wind energy in particular, and assumes that they are in fact met.
Through the five year period out to 2018, the Moderate scenario is very close to our annual five year market forecast, based on industry orders and planning as well as intelligence from our global network about new and emerging markets.
After 2018 it is difficult to make a precise forecast given the current set of global uncertainties, but at that stage we assume that a broader range of governments will have begun to respond to the increasing imperative for the energy security and price stability offered by wind energy, as the LCOE of wind continues to come down and the price of conventional generation continues to go up. Further, it is expected that there will be the beginnings of some sort of response to whatever is agreed in UNFCCC climate change process which peaks in Paris in December 2015.
GWEO Advanced Scenario
The ‘Advanced’ scenario is the most ambitious, and outlines the extent to which the wind industry could grow in a best case ‘wind energy vision’, but still well within the capacity of the industry as it exists today and is likely to grow in the future. It assumes an unambiguous commitment to renewable energy in line with industry recommendations, the political will to commit to appropriate policies and the political stamina to stick with them.
It also assumes that governments enact clear and effective policies on carbon emission reductions in line with the now universally agreed objective of keeping global mean temperature rise below 1.5-2°C above pre-industrial temperatures. Wind power is an absolutely critical technology to meeting the first objective in that battle - which is getting global emissions to peak and begin to decline before the end of this decade…