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Clean Energy For The Planet in 40 Years

April 26th, 2011 · No Comments

A new report was released by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which concluded that as much as 80% of the world’s energy requirements can be supplied by renewable energy sources

We’ve been focusing on alternatives and solutions to fossil fuel-based economy rather than on the acrimonious discussion about the science of global warming and climate change. Personally, I think clean renewable energy is the wave of the future, whether or not you believe in the science, and nations who recognize that today and prepare for it will be the global leaders in the years ahead.

Last week, a new report was released by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which concluded that as much as 80% of the world’s energy requirements can be supplied by renewable energy sources (primarily, solar and wind power) in as short as 40 years from now.

Rosy predictions always have the requisite caveat and this one has two. The 80% number can be achieved IF:

  • governments will start to legislate and enforce policies conducive to research and development and the growth of the renewables sector; and
  • public and private investments in renewables are increased and sustained. They’re talking about 1% of the world’s total GDP which is just a mere $1.5 trillion by 2020 and $7 trillion from 2021 to 2030.

Anything can happen in the future of course, but based on the current level of hostility that Republicans have towards climate science and renewable energy, there’s very little chance that a comprehensive policy legislation on renewable energy can be enacted during president Obama’s second term. If a Republican wins the White House in 2016, the US will most likely have to wait until 2024 before a renewables policy proposal will be entertained in Washington.

In the meantime, our competitors like China, Japan, and Germany are surging ahead with creating favorable conditions for the growth of their respective renewables sectors, and pouring massive amounts of investments into creating their clean energy infrastructure. It’ record growth for clean technology all over the planet, except in the U.S., of course. China, for example, poted a 30% growth in renewables invesment from $186 billion in 2009 to $243 billion in 2010.

The IPCC report pointed out that a major area for growth would the 1.4 billion people all over the world who up until today don’t have electric power in their homes. They will be targeted for deployment of renewables infrastructure as countries compete for their share of this new wave and as prices of generating systems (solar panels and wind towers) go down.

The 80% IPCC estimate is, in fact, a conservative one. Think tanks like the Global Energy Policy at WWF International estimate a 100% renewables supply by 2050.

I think it will happen, but if the US continues in its current path, we’ll be left far behind before we start to act. Ultimately, it’s the economy that will jolt us out of our collective inertia.

Rising costs of frequent natural catastrophes like the current flooding in Mississippi and spiraling costs of oil (as the world’ supply reaches peak production capacity) will inevitably force our hand.

It’s unfortunate that Big Oil, polluters, and climate science deniers have an undue level of influence in our national policy making process. Otherwise, we could have acted as early as President Carter’s administration in the early eighties.

Photo: Walmart Stores on Flickr

Tags: Clean Technology