Three-quarters of global emissions-reduction goals could be achieved through renewables and electrification alone, according to a new report from the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
The study, released this week at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue in Germany, predicts that with a scale-up of renewables it might be possible for electricity to cover 50 percent of the world’s final energy mix, up from 20 percent today.
The primary drivers for this increased electricity demand would come from a billion electric vehicles, as well as an increase in the use of electrical heating and the emergence of renewable hydrogen.
Overall, renewable energy would supply two-thirds of final energy, the research said. It was published in the latest edition of IRENA’s Global Energy Transformation report, which is now in its third year. The study looks at how society could move to a low-carbon future by 2050.
Solar and wind in the starring role
This year’s edition of the research predicts that the global power supply could more than double between now and 2050, with most of the new capacity coming from solar PV and wind.
The report stated that there are already pathways to meeting 86 percent of global power demand through renewable energy.
“The race to secure a climate-safe future has entered a decisive phase,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera in a press note. “Renewable energy is the most effective and readily available solution for reversing the trend of rising CO2 emissions.”
Following IRENA’s roadmap would also save between $65 trillion and $160 trillion worldwide over the next 30 years, said the agency, with savings coming from the avoidance of negative health impacts, climate damages, and $10 trillion in energy subsidies.
IRENA estimated the level of additional investments needed to achieve its low-carbon roadmap would be around $15 trillion by 2050.
Investment multiplier effect
This is “a significant sum,” IRENA acknowledged, but the level of investment had dropped 40 percent compared to last year’s analysis, mainly because of falling renewable energy costs.
Total investment in the energy system would need to reach $110 trillion by 2050, or around 2 percent of average annual gross domestic product over the next three decades, the report said.
Nevertheless, every dollar spent on energy transition would pay off up to seven times, helping the global economy to grow 2.5 percent in 2050. Global employment would also get a small boost, by 0.2 percent, the agency said.
While pointing out the potential for emissions reductions and economic benefit, the Global Energy Transformation report also warned that carbon dioxide emissions had grown by 1 percent a year, on average, over the last half decade.
The continued growth in emissions meant there is a need for a “significant increase” in renewable energy and climate targets, IRENA said. Emissions would need to drop 70 percent below current levels by 2050 in order to meet global climate targets, said the agency.