The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) published a new report this week which charts pathways to further accelerate a transformation of the global energy mix by intensifying electrification to the point that renewable energy can provide 86% of global power demand.
The new IRENA report, Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050, was launched Tuesday at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue, and outlines charted pathways to further accelerate a transformation of the global energy mix to better meet climate objectives while also creating jobs and fostering economic growth. Specifically, the report calls for electricity to become the major energy carrier, growing from its current 20% share to a share of final consumption of almost 50% by 2050.
Further, this wholesale electrification of the energy sector should be met primarily using renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, to the point that the aforementioned global power demand was met with as much as 86% renewable energy.
Driving such a wide-scale transformation of the global energy sector would be over 1 billion electric vehicles, increased use of electricity for heating and cooling, and the growth of renewable hydrogen. In the end, IRENA expects renewable energy could therefore supply two-thirds of final energy consumption.
“The race to secure a climate safe future has entered a decisive phase,” said newly-installed IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera. “Renewable energy is the most effective and readily-available solution for reversing the trend of rising CO2 emissions. A combination of renewable energy with a deeper electrification can achieve 75 per cent of the energy-related emissions reduction needed.”
“The shift towards renewables makes economic sense,” La Camera continued. “By mid-century, the global economy would be larger, and jobs created in the energy sector would boost global employment by 0.2 per cent. Policies to promote a just, fair and inclusive transition could maximise the benefits for different countries, regions and communities. This would also accelerate the achievement of affordable and universal energy access. The global energy transformation goes beyond a transformation of the energy sector. It is a transformation of our economies and societies.”
An accelerated transition such as the one laid out in IRENA’s Roadmap 2050 model would also save the global economy as much as $160 trillion over the next 30 years in avoided health costs, energy subsidies, and climate damages. According to IRENA, every dollar spent on such an energy transition would pay itself off up to seven times — between $3 and $7 per each $1 spent, or a cumulative payoff of between $65 trillion and $160 trillion — helping the global economy to grow by 2.5% in 2050.
Unsurprisingly, however, action towards such a global transformation of the energy sector is lagging, according to the report and, as the authors point out, “Despite clear evidence of human-caused climate change, support for the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the prevalence of clean, economical and sustainable energy options, energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have increased 1.3% annually, on average, over the last five years.” This, compared to the need for CO2 emissions to decline by 70% below their current levels by 2050 in an effort to meet global climate goals.
As such, a significant increase in national and sub-national ambition and more aggressive renewable energy and climate targets are necessary in an effort to bring these goals to fruition. The report highlights the need for national policies to focus on zero-carbon long-term strategies and the need to boost and harness systemic innovation, including fostering smarter energy systems through digitalization as well as the coupling of end-use sectors — particularly transport, and heating and cooling — via greater electrification, promoting decentralization and designing flexible power grids.
“The energy transformation is gaining momentum, but it must accelerate even faster,” concluded La Camera. “The UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the review of national climate pledges under the Paris Agreement are milestones for raising the level of ambition. Urgent action on the ground at all levels is vital, in particular unlocking the investments needed to further strengthen the momentum of this energy transformation. Speed and forward-looking leadership will be critical – the world in 2050 depends on the energy decisions we take today.”
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