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100 Percent Renewables: The Resources are There, Says UN Report

Renewable energy sources are expected to contribute up to 80 percent of global energy supply by 2050, according to a new report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Among the report’s points of emphasis: wind power alone is capable of supplying more than 100 percent of future demand.

“The report clearly demonstrates that renewable technologies could supply the world with more energy than it would ever need, and at a highly competitive cost,” said Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council. “The IPCC report will be a key reference for policy makers and industry alike, as it represents the most comprehensive high level review of renewable energy to date.”

The 1,000-page report, which was adopted by 194 governments after marathon negotiations on May 9, considers the potential contribution from wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, hydro, and ocean energy, as well as their potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, their integration into the energy networks, their contribution to sustainable development, and the policies which are needed to put them in place. Following a review of 164 scenarios, the IPCC found that renewables will play a key role in any successful plan to combat climate change.

An increasing number of technologies are already economically competitive, the report noted, and that trend will continue as further cost reductions and technology improvements are made, the report said.

The scenarios assessed by the IPCC estimate that renewable energy can save between 220 and 560 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide in the period between 2010 and 2050. “One key message from the report is that renewable energy sources will be paramount in the global battle against climate change, and their role in saving greenhouse gas emissions will be considerably more important than that of natural gas, carbon capture and storage, or nuclear power,” said Sawyer.

“However, it is up to policy makers to make this happen with adequate support and long-term commitment. One crucial opportunity for this will be the next round of climate negotiations in South Africa in December this year.”

In 2009 around 12.9 percent of global primary energy supply, and 19 percent of the global electricity supply, was covered by renewable sources, including traditional biomass. The world’s wind power capacity installed at the end of 2010 produces enough power to cover for around 2.5 percent of global electricity demand. In the scenarios examined by the IPCC, that share could increase tenfold to reach 25 percent in 2050.

Carl Levesque is the Communications Editor at AWEA. This article first appeared in the AWEA Windletter and was reprinted with permission from the American Wind Energy Association.

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Carl is Editor & Publications Manager at the American Wind Energy Association, where has worked since 2006. At AWEA he oversees AWEA's online and print publications including the Wind Energy Weekly, Windpower Update, and other products. He has wor...

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