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Can renewable energy sources power the world?
Can renewable energy sources power the world?

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8.1 95% of global energy from renewables by 2050

A study was published by the World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in its 2011 Energy Report (WWF, 2011b), based on analysis by the Dutch energy consultancy Ecofys. It shows how, in the decades to 2050, the world could implement major energy saving measures, reducing the massive waste that is present in our current energy systems. Simultaneously it could phase in a mixture of wind, solar, geothermal, hydro and biomass energy sources to provide 95% of the world’s final energy demand, as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 5 WWF Energy Report scenario – energy efficiency measures reducing final energy demand combined with phasing-in renewable energy sources by 2050

A series of renewable-intensive future world energy scenarios has also been produced over the past decade by the environmental group Greenpeace. Early versions were initially dismissed by sceptics as over-optimistic in their projections for the growth of solar or wind power. But these early projections have in fact proved pessimistic, given the high growth rates that have been achieved in recent years.

Figure 6 shows the growth of world primary energy use between 1960 and 2010. It also shows projections for 2050 from Greenpeace’s Advanced Energy (r) Evolution scenario (Greenpeace, 2010) and from the IEA ‘Blue Map’ scenario (see below). As in the WWF scenario, energy demand in the Greenpeace scenario is reduced by implementing energy efficiency improvements. By 2050 more than 80% of the world’s (reduced) energy consumption would be supplied by a mixture of hydro, wind, biomass, geothermal, solar and ocean energy sources.

Figure 6 World energy use 1960–2010 and in IEA Blue Map and Greenpeace Advanced scenarios for 2050

Watch the following video, in which the optimistic projections in Greenpeace’s ‘Advanced Energy Revolution’ scenario, are compared with the much more pessimistic projections of the oil company BP. Further studies are discussed, showing that the world could be entirely powered by renewables without fossil or nuclear fuels by around 2040. However, a dissenting note is sounded by one of the interviewees, who believes the idea of achieving 100% renewables by 2050 is ‘ridiculous’.

The video then goes on to suggest that an all-renewable world is not only possible but desirable, given the need for a transition to zero carbon energy sources to mitigate the serious impending consequences of global climate change.

Download this video clip.Video player: track_06_renewable_energy_and_the_uk_can_renewable_energy_power_the_world.mp4
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