By 2050, nearly 80% of the world’s energy could be supplied by renewables, according to a new report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The paper, which has taken more than 120 researchers over three years to produce, also claims that an investment of anywhere between US$2,850 and US$12,280 billion could be required to fund this green energy boom over the next 20 years.
Should these figures prove accurate, it would be a boon to an industry that was estimated to contribute just 13% to the global energy supply three years ago. Naturally, this growing reliance on solar, bioenergy, geothermal, hydropower, tidal and wind will also benefit the environment by cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 220 to 560 gigatonnes over the next 40 years.
The 1,000-page report has been approved by governments in 194 nations and analyses more than 164 scenarios on the long-term viability of renewables replacing fossil fuels. Four of these scenarios were investigated in detail and they showed that the renewables sector could account for as much as 77%, or as little as 15%, of global energy output in 2050. These wildly disparate numbers were mirrored in findings on the decadal investment, with figures ranging from US$1,360 – 5,100 billion for the period up until 2020 and US$1,490 – 7,180 billion for 2021 to 2030.
The report also revealed that solar was one of the energy sources with the most potential. At present, the sector contributes only a fraction of a percent of the world’s energy supply, but in some of the IPCC’s more optimistic forecasts, this number could rise to as much as 33% by 2050.
While the majority of scenarios saw solar account for around 10% of total energy production, the scope for growth remains considerable. Nevertheless, actual deployment is still dependent on continued innovation, cost reductions and supportive legislation.
The IPPC paper also stipulates that the aforementioned growth is heavily reliant on considerable governmental support. “The potential role of renewable energy technologies in meeting the needs of the poor and in powering the sustainable growth of developing and developed economies can trigger sharply polarised views,” said Youba Sokona, co-chair of the IPCC working group that unveiled the report in Abu Dhabi. “This IPCC report has brought some much-needed clarity to this debate in order to inform governments on the options and decisions that will needed if the world is to collectively realise a low carbon, far more resource efficient and equitable development path.”