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Biomass Image Credit: IRENA

Published on June 12th, 2014 | by James Ayre

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Climate Catastrophe If Solar Deployment Doesn’t Increase 12 Times Over By 2030, According To IRENA

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June 12th, 2014 by  

If solar energy deployment doesn’t increase 12 times over by the year 2030, the world is headed towards a “climate catastrophe,” according to a recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Not exactly a new warning, but certainly worth heeding and being aware of. That said, the report — REmap 2013 — isn’t “doomsy.” It lays out a clear path to the goal of a 36% share of renewables in the energy mix by 2030.

The purpose of the achievement of the 36% share is to limit the atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide to less than 450ppm (it’s debatable whether the achievement of that goal would limit emissions to that degree, and whether or not that would be enough to avoid world-shaking catastrophe), and thus limit warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (again, quite debatable).

That said, whether or not those goals are adequate isn’t really the issue — it may be that the goals need to be more ambitious, but the achievement of even these, possibly inadequate, goals will require substantial political action and change, something that isn’t at all certain. That is most definitely the most important takeaway of the report — significant increases are necessary to avoid very high levels of warming, and they are possible, but require more commitment than has been shown up until now.

Image Credit: IRENA

Via the pathway provided by the IRENA model, wind energy will need to increase even more than solar — by a factor of 15 by the year 2030. Geothermal, hydro, and biomass will all need to increase significantly as well — by a factor of 9, 2, and 1.5, respectively. The IRENA model doesn’t factor in potentially significant growth in tidal energy generation.

While this may all sound like it would be very expensive, it’s worth remembering that the savings are significant as well — especially the savings on health and environmental costs.

Transitioning towards renewable energy is possible at negligible additional cost. The economic case for the renewable energy transition is even stronger when we include socio-economic benefits — with these factors are taken into account, switching to renewable energy results in savings of up to $740 billion per year by 2030.

Image Credit: IRENA


Out of that number, roughly $200 billion is in reference to health costs — thanks to a reduction in the numerous health problems caused by fossil fuel use.

While it may seem a bit repetitious to keep reading report after report like this, the reality is that the actions that are necessary to avert big changes in the climate simply aren’t happening. But perhaps such reports and warnings are helping to spread awareness and possibly influence policies/behaviors?

On that note, while discussions of “catastrophic climate change” typically make note of the great physical changes likely to occur to the world over the coming decades and centuries, they don’t often factor in the great changes in human interaction and social structure/cohesion that have always accompanied changes in the climate throughout history.

And with the climatic changes this time expected to be quite rapid, and the human population swelled far beyond any previous levels, these social changes are likely to be quite significant this time, as many of the world’s leading military think tanks and organizations have warned. Such changes in the climate in the past have resulted in large-scale migration, war, social breakdown, famine, pandemic, and agricultural failure — why would it be any different this time?

That should be motivation enough to make the transition to renewable energy, shouldn’t it?

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



  • mds

    “Transitioning towards renewable energy is possible at negligible additional cost.”
    You do your cause a dis-service. This statement understates the truth, from a purely economic point of view. In several markets Solar PV is already less the half the cost of end-of-grid electricity. Half the cost is the requirement for disruptive change. The cost of Solar PV continues to drop. Low cost storage (several chemistries & other technologies) are now coming to the market. Solar PV demand, production, and installation will continue to grow rapidly. Solar PV is the cell phone of the power industry.

    Just tracking the global production/installation numbers:
    I’ve been tracking global production/installation from Internet sources starting with this article:
    http://thefraserdomain.typepad.com/energy/2007/12/fyi-solar-cell.html PV production up 50% in 2007 – Dec 2007
    “Solar Cell Production Jumps 50 Percent in 2007” “jumped to 3,800 megawatts worldwide in 2007” “Growing by an impressive average of 48 percent each year since 2002” “world’s fastest-growing energy source”
    Good plot of PV production growth from 1975 to 2007 here.

    Comments on that article, in 2007, mostly indicated people thought the 48% growth rate was easier to maintain for production at small volumes and would slow down. (Sound familiar?) It really has not slowed down very much at all. Starting with 3,800 MW = 3.8 GW in 2007, we were at 35 GW (revised up to 38 GW by some). A 48% growth, starting with 3.8 GW in 2007, would have put us at 40 GW last year. We are not far off and we are still well above a 41% per year growth curve. A growth rate of 41% means a doubling of production/installation every two years. The best current predictions for 2014 production/installation are 45 GW to 50 GW per year. Still not getting back to the 48% curve (59 GW), but still easily higher than the 41% curve (42 GW).

    If we continue on the 41% growth curve, still starting from 3.8 GW in 2007, then we will see 16 times the current production/installation in 8 years, by 2022. Remember 41% is a doubling of production (2 times) every 2 years and that would be 4 doublings (16 times) in 8 years. IF this happens we will easily beat your 12 times by 2030. …and this should happen for simple economic reasons …nothing to do with AGW.

    Again, if you follow that 41% curve, starting from 3.8 GW in 2007, we will be producing 658 GW by 2022. Over half a TW of production/installation per year! …and we are doing better than that 41% curve right now! Total world power use is on the order of 18 TW. That is ALL power use, NOT just electricity.

    One more doubling, by 2024, or a faster growth rate, and we will be producing/installing over a TW per year! Global Solar PV production/installation is not showing any signs of slowing down right now …just the opposite.

    Solar PV is the cell phone of the power industry. It will be the major source of the world’s electricity, probably the major source of all world power, within 2 decades. …just based on simple economics.

  • PaulACalvin

    That said, whether or not those goals are adequate isn’t really the issue — it may be that the goals need to be more ambitious, but the achievement of even these, possibly inadequate, goals will require substantial political action and change, something that isn’t at all certain. http://0rz.tw/9BIIY

  • JamesWimberley

    The takeaway is that a clean energy transition doesn’t cost anything, Really. The IPCC and the IEA say the same. The sums to be invested are astronomical – but they are just as high if we stay with fossil and fry our grandchildren.

    This means that there is no international free-rider problem. What if China doesn’t act? Well, we are still all screwed, but later – and you (the EU, the USA, Japan, whatever) haven’t lost anything by going first. Besides, the same calculus holds for China. The obstacle is the very much easier one of overcoming, within each country, the powerful interests vested in fossil fuels. Now hear this: we can do it.

    • jburt56

      Not we can do it. We must do it.

  • jburt56

    Actually 100x.

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