A very well-published and insightful writer, Scott Thill, recently reached out to me to pick my brain about REmap 2030. His questions were so good (imho) and I spent so much time on the answers that I figured it would be worthwhile to publish both here. Check them out below (subheadings and images adding), and give Scott a hand by clicking on over to his site or following him on Twitter.
Clean Energy Now vs Climate Catastrophe Later
SH: I’ve long argued that investment in renewables will save us far more money than simply paying for whatever catastrophic climate change throws at us, which is like taking a bushel of money and just setting it on fire. Any idea how much money we’re losing on that plan? Do you think can we break the stigma of investing in planning for the worst and hoping for the best?
ZS: I completely agree. I haven’t seen anything lately, but a 2005 study projected the cost of climate inaction to be more than twice the cost of climate action + climate damages we’ve already essentially locked in. Since then, the effects of global warming have come faster and stronger than projected, and the expected effects of global warming have gotten worse. Meanwhile, we’ve been slow to implement the necessary solutions. In other words: the cost of implementing solutions as quickly as possibly is insignificant compared to the cost of not implementing these solutions.
REmap 2030 vs Other Scenarios
SH: Where do you think this roadmap stands in comparison to others out there? Any stark differences?
ZS: This is a great question, in my humble opinion. Projections vary wildly based on assumptions used. Projections are used by different companies and organizations in order to not only prepare for the future but to also try to shape it. I noticed while scrolling threw the REmap 2030 summary of findings (before the official release) that REmap’s overall projections fell approximately halfway between projections from Exxon and projections from leading environmental nonprofits (WWF & Greenpeace). At lunch with Dolf Gielen, Director of the IRENA Innovation & Technology Centre, I asked him why IRENA’s projects were so much lower than WWF’s & Greenpeace’s (it’s quite obvious that Exxon’s would be on the pessimistic end). His answer was that those more optimistic projections assumed a much greater increase in energy efficiency. The renewable energy growth projections were actually very similar.
Furthermore, it’s worth noting that REmap 2030 is clear in stating that our energy future can be much cleaner if we are willing (or eager) to retire fossil fuel plants early, if there are breakthroughs in technology (expected), or if certain shifts happen at a faster pace (such as electrification of transportation, which I think is a bit underestimated in the REmap 2030 report). Overall, though, I think what Dolf said is quite accurate: this is an ambitious but realistic projection. It leaves room for positive surprise, but it also leaves a buffer for difficulties along the way.
SH: Given the land crunch we’re already having because of climate change’s droughts and floods, do you find the biofuel component of the roadmap optimistic? Any innovations in that sector that don’t require land as much as discarded feedstock? It seems like a dead end compared to solar and wind.
ZS: I have to say that I love your questions! Exactly the sort of things that came to my mind. Regarding biofuels, I’ll admit that I’m not a fan. As you note, they come with a host of issues regarding our food supply, water supply, and climate. I was disappointed to see such high biofuel growth in the report. However, just a few days after writing about the report, I happened to find out about what looks to be a truly exciting development in the biofuel arena. Boeing, Masdar Institute, and a number of other “Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium” partners have discovered a type of plant that can be used for high-quality biofuel, can be grown in the desert, can be grown with seawater instead of much more limited freshwater, and can use aquaculture waste as fertilizer. They hope to commercialize this type of biofuel within 4-5 years. The entire story is exciting, in my opinion, but it’s also worth noting that part of Boeing’s drive for a better biofuel comes from performance problems they and others in the airline industry are noticing from increasingly common shale and tar sands oil. They genuinely want to move beyond oil to a genuinely sustainable biofuel. We’ll have to see if this new biofuel source (halophytes) is as good as it sounds, but I’ll admit that I am hopeful. I don’t know if the folks at IRENA knew about this biofuel development when writing the report, but I wouldn’t be surprised — IRENA’s headquarters are going to be in Masdar City, within just a short walk of where this research is centered.
Great questions = lengthy responses. 😀 Thanks and hope you can use all of this!
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