What is the future of renewable energy? (Weekly pic)

Source: IPCC SRREN (2011), Figure 10.4
Source: IPCC SRREN (2011), Figure 10.2 (Page 803, edited figure number to the correct one 12th September 2015)

It is highly unlikely the world can be powered by renewable energy sources alone by 2050. This is one of the conclusions of the IPCC’s often cited but rarely read Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation, or SRREN.

Published in 2011, it reviewed 164 energy scenarios that focus on the role of renewable energy in the world energy supply. While the report finds that the maximum “technical potential” of renewable energy sources is indeed large, these scenarios – which attempted to take into account at least some economic and other practical limitations as well – found that their realizable potential is probably much less.

The above graph sums up the results. Not one of those 164 scenarios could deliver, in 2050, even the amount of energy used in the world in 2010. Even the most positive outlier, based on Greenpeace’s Energy [R]evolution study (which in turn was largely based on data from renewable industry lobbyists) delivered only 428 exajoules per year. The average of all scenarios was much less, only 186 exajoules per year.

The SRREN report was by no means overly critical of renewables. As several commentators noted after the report’s release, it downplayed or even omitted discussion about several problems with high renewables scenarios. For example, the feasibility of different scenarios was not really assessed: they may be technically possible, but can the world politics put them to practice?

And even if the most optimistic of those 164 scenarios is put into practice and runs into no unforeseen difficulties, the world energy demand needs to drop drastically while world population grows to 9 or 10 billion. 

Let’s suppose we’re building a bridge and order 164 engineering analyses of the proposed structure’s soundness. Every single one of these analyses suggests that the bridge will be unlikely to withstand current traffic, much less the likely increase in the future. We proceed with the plans anyway, and even declare that our plan is the only one worth mentioning. Are these the words of a responsible designer?

Are the words of Greenpeace – and others who advocate for zero nuclear energy – responsible, or are they a gamble with the climate?

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Activists or lobbyists? (Weekly pic)

Source: Greenpeace Energy [R]evolution 2012.
Source: Greenpeace Energy [R]evolution 2012.
Greenpeace is one of the largest global organizations opposing nuclear power. While it does commendable work in many other fields and actively promotes renewables, one must wonder whether or not they have crossed a line from being activists to being unpaid lobbyists to industrial interests.

This excerpt from our book simply shows the cover and foreword of Greenpeace’s regularly updated vision for world energy future, the Energy [R]evolution. It is one of the cornerstones of the world anti-nuclear movement, and is regularly referenced to when one questions whether climate and other environmental goals are achievable without nuclear power. The order in which the organizations and signatories appear in this document may be accidental; nevertheless, it reveals that two out of three parties who signed off this document are in fact industry lobbyists.

According to its now-defunct website, the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) “represent[ed] the entire renewable energy sector as the umbrella organisation of the European renewable energy industry, trade and research associations […] EREC represent[ed] an industry with an annual economic activity of more than €130 billion and more than 1 million employees.” (Note that EREC no longer exists, as it was forced into liquidation in early 2014 mainly due to high liabilities from its showcase low-energy headquarters in Brussels.)

Similarly, the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) is the international trade association for the wind power industry, representing “over 1,500 companies, organisations and institutions in more than 80 countries, including manufacturers, developers, component suppliers, research institutes, national wind and renewables associations, electricity providers, finance and insurance companies.” Its stated mission is to create a better policy environment for wind power, and advocate new policies “to help wind power reach its full potential in as wide a variety of markets as possible.” 

Both of these organizations have done and, in case of GWEC, continue to do valuable work in promoting renewables. However, they are by their own admission mouthpieces for industrial interests. Renewable energy is no longer a mom-and-pop business staffed by starry-eyed hippies: it is in fact larger than nuclear industry, that traditional target of activists keen to criticize “big business” for its corrupting influences.

Big business doesn’t get big nor does it stay big without some lobbying. It is perfectly understandable that GWEC and late EREC lobby for their respective industries. It is, however, somewhat more questionable when a large, supposedly neutral or even anti-business NGO uncritically joins forces with them.

Even more questionable is if the said NGO takes the key data for its energy forecasts directly from the industry lobby groups. Which happens to be precisely what Greenpeace has admitted doing. As Sven Teske from Greenpeace freely admits:

The Energy [R]evolution, which is the result of a partnership between Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) […] the renewable energy industry provided key technical data for this project […]

Even though modeling for the Energy [R]evolution was done by a neutral group, anyone ever involved in modeling is familiar with the term GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out. It means simply that if the key data for a model is biased, the end results will be biased.

We believe that relying on industry lobby groups for key data for the scenario to save the world is, in short, a gamble with the climate.

This series of posts introduces graphics from our book Climate Gamble: Is Anti-Nuclear Activism Endangering Our Future? The book is now available on Amazon.com in Kindle and paperback formats; see also our crowdfunding initiative which aims to deliver a copy of the book to COP21 climate delegates in Paris this December.