Even a drastic uptick in renewable electricity has the globe on course for about 2.4°C of warming, according to a new analysis from DNV GL.
The takeaways, while a slight variation on other scenarios of how a global energy transition may unfold, affirm what others have forecasted: The world is dangerously far from averting serious climate change.
“The real message here is the urgency,” said Ditlev Engel, the CEO of the consultancy's energy group. “How many more proof points do we need to take the necessary steps to accelerate this transition dramatically? Because time is of the essence. … Technology is there, but regulation needs to be picked up.”
Currently available technologies can close the gap between its forecasted 2.4°C and the 1.5°C scientists say is the upper limit of warming if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change, DNV GL says.
To bridge the gap, the firm said the world needs to grow its solar capacity by 1,000 percent and wind power by half that much in the next decade. To support the 50 million electric vehicles that would need to take to the world’s roads annually, DNV GL calls for a 50-fold increase in batteries, new ultra-high voltage transmission and massive buildout of charging infrastructure.
That reality is not what DNV GL’s current energy model predicts, though. While DNV GL forecasts that energy demand will flatline in the 2030s, energy supply will peak in 2030 and renewables will account for 80 percent of the electricity mix in 2050 (with electricity accounting for 40 percent of energy use by that year), that all adds up to 2.4°C of warming above pre-industrial levels. That's a decrease from the approximately 2.6°C the company laid out in its 2018 Energy Transition Outlook.
In DNV GL’s most recent model, electricity will knock out some coal and oil in final energy consumption, but the two remain part of the mix through 2050. DNV GL foresees peak gas in 2033 and peak oil in 2022. Though coal has already reached its global apex, its fastest phaseout will be in North America and Europe while it persists in other regions.
The path for fossil fuels
Globally, the role of fossil fuels is gradually curtailed (DNV GL also notes that carbon capture and storage don’t play a “significant role” in its model) as its share of the energy mix drops from more than 80 percent today to about 56 percent by 2050.
Among other predictions:
- Fossil fuels will account for about 18 percent of electricity in 2050.
- Solar and wind will each make up over 30 percent of electricity by that year, with solar beating out wind. Offshore wind will account for about 40 percent of total wind generation.
Unlike many other forecasts, DNV GL does not include scenarios that would meet the 1.5°C goal that countries agreed to in the Paris agreement. Instead, the firm focuses on one “most likely” future. DNV GL’s picture of the transition has accelerated slightly since last year, shown by the marginal dip in warming and an earlier peak in energy demand.
But those changes are still not fast enough.
“It doesn’t change the fact that we are nowhere getting near the Paris Agreement,” said Engel. He argues policy and regulation must meet existing technologies to accelerate the transition beyond its current pace.
“The technology is there if we want to make it happen,” he said. “There is actually a toolbox available that you can work with if you really want to get there.”
The 2020 Democratic field in the U.S. has drawn heavily from that toolbox to craft a slate of ambitious climate proposals that candidates plan to implement if elected.
Though most of those plans call for net-zero emissions by mid-century, if not earlier, DNV GL’s analysis may provide a bracing dose of realism about the current state of the transition.
DNV GL also forecasts a faster transition than some other analysts. An energy transition report produced by consultancy Wood Mackenzie projects 3 degrees of warming and energy demand increasing through 2040.
But Engel said even slight uncertainty about the current environment or the pace of the transition is no reason to dawdle.
“We are let’s say, very technology optimistic. But we are also fully aware of all the other challenges that we need to address,” he said. "We need to make decisions, in our view, not just where technology is in the moment, but also by looking at the [energy transition outlook and] where technology is heading."
“We are not a forecast of what the politicians will do, but we want to make them aware.”