Renewables Build-out is too Slow to hit Paris Targets

SciDev Net has an interesting, and extremely bracing, view of the new Roadmap for a Renewable Energy Future report from the International Renewable Energy Agency. In a nutshell, it says that developing countries that already have a high share of renewable energy in their power mix have it by virtue of “traditional bioenergy” and are unlikely, all else being equal, to grow this share further, this because of a “skyrocketing demand for cheap electricity” that still favors fossils over “modern renewables.”

To be sure,

“many developing countries made huge strides towards deploying renewable technologies over the past decade — but this rise is now leveling off.  Instead, these countries are turning towards fossil fuels to meet the energy demands of their citizens.”

“Nicholas Wagner, an IRENA programme officer who helped prepare the report, says countries such as Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria “have a high share of renewable biomass as part of their energy portfolios.” [This is mostly traditional biomass.] But rather than rapidly building out their infrastructures with modern renewables, these countries have “turned to fossil fuels to power greater demand for heating, cooling and transport, he says.”

“Beate Braams, a spokesperson for Germany’s energy ministry, says the drop in the proportion of energy coming from renewables in developing countries could be because growing energy needs are largely being met by other sources. “If there is a growing energy demand in an economy and if this additional demand is covered by fossil fuels, the relative share of renewables will decrease, even if there is no decrease in absolute terms for renewable energy,” she explains.”

To be extra clear, the bulk of the report is extremely optimistic about renewables. As of course is IRENA.

For example, its website says that:

“Doubling renewables in the global energy mix by 2030 is not only feasible, but cheaper than not doing so. Economic savings would far exceed the costs. It would create more jobs, boost economic growth and save millions of lives annually through reduced air pollution. It would also, when coupled with greater energy efficiency, put the world on track to keep the rise of temperatures within 2°C, in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement. But to meet that goal, renewable energy deployment must happen six times faster than current rates. “

The issue here is that the transition to modern renewables is still far too slow to meet the needs of the developing economies. And that, while we must be absolutely clear about the almost boundless potential of the new and emerging technologies, we also have to be clear about the fact that we are falling short. Far short. For example, traditional renewables formed nearly 50 per cent of Indonesia’s energy mix in 2000, and since then the build out of modern renewables has been outpaced by fossil energy growth, with the result that total renewables amounted in 2013, to under 40 per cent of the total energy mix. China, India and Mexico have also seen their renewable share fall over this period.

The bottom line is that while the potential for modern renewables is huge, the pace of the build out is far too slow. Study pages 30 and 31 of the report and you get the real point. To meet the Paris targets, the rate of renewable energy deployment must increase by a factor of six.

Look, for example, at the graph below (from page 29).  Note the four-fold increase in “modern energy with renewables” that is projected between 2014 and 2030.  (This is given as a percentage of “total final energy consumption”  in 14 years. And “total final energy consumption” is itself growing.).  Note how much “Traditional uses of bioenergy” drops and modern energy increases.  Note also that, in 2030, modern renewables are four times as great as they were in 2014.

RE transition 2

Also, on page 19 there’s a very useful picture of the 100% RE transition, relative to the global gap.  Note how small a fraction of the projected 2030 decline (blue downward arrow) is actually represented by the existing, first round, of INDCs.  And think about just how uncertain even these reductions are.  Let alone those represented by the additional (and more expensive) policy options represented by the green and purple arrows.

The RE pathway