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Renewable energy can support resilient and equitable recovery – IRENA report

Advancing the renewables-based energy transformation is an opportunity to meet international climate goals while boosting economic growth, creating millions of jobs and improving human welfare by 2050, finds the first Global Renewables Outlook released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). While a pathway to deeper decarbonisation requires total energy investment up to US$130 trillion, the socio-economic gains of such an investment would be massive, the Outlook reveals.

Advancing the renewables-based energy transformation is an opportunity to meet international climate goals while boosting economic growth, creating millions of jobs and improving human welfare by 2050, finds the first Global Renewables Outlook report released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). While a pathway to deeper decarbonisation requires total energy investment up to US$130 trillion, the socio-economic gains of such an investment would be massive, the Outlook reveals (graphic courtesy IRENA).

According to IRENA’s “Global Renewables Outlook” report, transforming the energy system could boost cumulative global GDP gains above business-as-usual by US$98 trillion between now and 2050. It would nearly quadruple renewable energy jobs to 42 million, expand employment in energy efficiency to 21 million and add 15 million in system flexibility.

Governments are facing a difficult task of bringing the health emergency under control while introducing major stimulus and recovery measures. The crisis has exposed deeply embedded vulnerabilities of the current system. IRENA’s Outlook shows the ways to build more sustainable, equitable and resilient economies by aligning short-term recovery efforts with the medium-and long-term objectives of the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Agenda, said Francesco La Camera, IRENA’s Director-General.

The Global Renewables Outlook examines building blocks of an energy system along with investment strategies and policy frameworks needed to manage the transition. It explores ways to cut global carbon dioxide (CO2)  emissions by at least 70 percent by 2050.

Furthermore, a new perspective on deeper decarbonisation shows a path towards net-zero and zero emissions. Building on five technology pillars, particularly green hydrogen and extended end-use electrification could help replace fossil-fuels and slash emissions in heavy industry and hard-to-decarbonise sectors.

Modern bioenergy has a role

The report notes that “modern bioenergy can play a vital role in the energy transition if scaled up significantly” adding that the growth rate of liquid biofuels and biomass pellets is insufficient to support the requirements of the energy transition. Therefore a “much stronger and concerted effort is needed, particularly in sectors for which bioenergy could provide key solutions for shipping, aviation, and various industrial applications.

In August 2015, Uddevalla Energi, a Swedish municipal district energy provider inaugurated a wood pellet plant adjacent to its waste-to-energy (WtE) plant. The pellet plant utilises excess heat from the WtE plant during the spring, summer, and autumn when the district heat demand is low enabling the WtE plant to operate year-round at full heat and power capacity.

The report highlights that “detrimental cooking practices” must be replaced with clean, efficient, modern energy-use systems that use improved cookstoves fuelled with sustainably produced bioenergy such as wood, biogas or ethanol whereas heating with biomass includes both high-temperature process heat for industry and low-temperature space heating for homes, apartments, and office building via district heating networks.

Primary modern bioenergy demand would grow from around 30 exajoules (EJ) in 2016 to 125 EJ by 2050 in the Transforming Energy Scenario. Liquid biofuels consumption would reach 652 billion litres, up from 129 billion litres in 2016. However, the biomass will have to be sourced from “sustainable and affordable feedstocks”.

Significant payoff

Low-carbon investment would significantly pay off, the Outlook shows, with savings eight times more than costs when accounting for reduced health and environmental externalities. A climate-safe path would require cumulative energy investments of US$110 trillion by 2050 but achieving full carbon neutrality would add another US$20 trillion.

Low-carbon investment would significantly pay off, the Global Renewables Outlook shows, with savings eight times more than costs when accounting for reduced health and environmental externalities (graphic courtesy IRENA).

The Outlook also looked at energy and socio-economic transition paths in 10 regions worldwide. Despite varied paths, all regions are expected to see higher shares of renewable energy use, with Southeast Asia, Latin America, the European Union (EU) and Sub-Saharan Africa poised to reach 70-80 percent shares in their total energy mixes by 2050.

Similarly, electrification of end uses like heat and transport would rise everywhere, exceeding 50 percent in East Asia, North America and much of Europe. All regions would also significantly increase their welfare and witness net job gains in the energy sector despite losses in fossil fuels.

However, economy-wide, regional job gains are distributed unevenly. While regional GDP growth would show considerable variation, most regions could expect gains.

By accelerating renewables and making the energy transition an integral part of the wider recovery, governments can achieve multiple economic and social objectives in the pursuit of a resilient future that leaves nobody behind, said Francesco La Camera.

Raising regional and country-level ambitions will be crucial to meet interlinked energy and climate objectives and harvest socio-economic welfare. Stronger coordination on international, regional and domestic levels will be equally important, the Outlook concludes, with financial support being directed where needed including to the most vulnerable countries and communities.

As a partner of the Climate Investment Platform, launched to drive clean energy uptake and mobilise clean investment, IRENA will advance collaborative action targeted to help countries create enabling conditions and unlock renewable investment.

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