Because of the delta, or change, in temperature of the Earth’s surface, which is caused by global warming, changes in the climate have already been observed. If we do not want to risk dangerous climate change, we must transform the global energy system, a large cause of net greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. In order to keep pace with global warming, we need to change the global energy system at the same rate. Delta T for temperature, over time t, implies a delta E for energy, over a similar time period. We have to transform what we know about the rate of change of global warming into a plan of action to create an appropriate rate of change the global energy system.
Wind power is currently one of the fastest growing new energy investments, and in the next few decades, the rate of solar power capacity additions is likely to outpace it. Together, wind and solar power are likely to dominate new electricity generating capacity investments, even as first generation wind turbines start to need to be replaced. Bloomberg New Energy Finance project that the proportion of electricity generated from fossil fuels will soon peak and then decline.
A number of energy, engineering and industrial companies have published their strategies to focus on renewable energy supply and consumption. In addition, a number of nations have policies to promote and subsidise growing portfolios of renewable energy assets. The percentage of renewables in the world electricity generation mix is likely to rise sharply in the next few decades.
For all energy, not just electricity, and including traditional biomass, renewable energy provides almost 20% of current final energy demand (energy accounted at the point of final use). Note that nuclear power generation is only around 2.5% of the global total energy final demand. As of 2016, the proportion of the world’s total final energy demand met by renewable energy, apart from traditional biomass, is only around 2%, but this is rising sharply.
Can the world ramp up renewable energy supply fast enough to meet the demands of tackling climate change ? Many energy industry and energy organisation projections show a ramp in demand for primary energy – the energy that goes into the global energy system before losses. Coal, oil and Natural Gas are believed to continue to form a major part of the energy supply by many analysts, even where they have to continually revise their lacklustre projections for renewable energy.
Can we continue to direct investment capital into renewable energy ? Bloomberg New Energy Finance has been cautious in their position about renewable energy investment growth, for example, although one could say recent loss of growth in renewable energy spending could correlate with much cheaper prices – particularly for solar power installations.
Projections need to be taken seriously, but perhaps not too seriously. It is hard to know in advance which technologies will have a wide base of investment potential. For example, it seems highly probable that the electric vehicle market will start to have enormous growth; whereas a fast deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is not really something with a timetable.
Whatever precisely happens next, energy investment needs to continue to happen, and also, the profile of energy consumption and supply needs to alter. These changes can be split roughly into three scales : macroeconomic investment decisions; mesoeconomic network supply and demand profiles; and microeconomic demand decisions. Macroeconomic investment decisions are essentially decisions about which energy technologies to build, and strategies to finance them and run them. At this scale we get decisions about building new megawatt or gigawatt power plants, for example. Mesoeconomic issues centre on grids, both power grids and gas pipeline networks, and how to manage peaks and troughs in both supply and demand. If supply is variable, demand must become better managed, and energy storage must play its part. Microeconomic demand decisions are made by individual energy consumers on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour basis; and consumers need to be empowered to consume different kinds of energy at different times in order to optimise grid, network and energy storage systems.