Is it feasible to get 95 % of energy from renewable in 2050?

Olga Podosenova

Dutch scientists claim that it is possible to bring up the share of renewable energy in the global energy production to 95 % by 2050, even using already existing technologies. At the same time, the target of 4.5 % renewable energy by 2020 announced the Energy Strategy of the Russian Federation is under doubt: the International Energy Agency predicts only 1.6 % by 2035.

The authors of the report "Transition to a fully sustainable global energy system" , published in Journal of Energy Strategy Reviews argue that administrative mechanisms (tax benefits, mandatory state standards), combined with policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can become strong incentives for development of clean energy. In the report, the Dutch researchers concluded that: "… we can build a global energy system by 2050 which sources 95% of its energy from sustainable sources following an ambitious, but feasible pathway. The pathway is considered achievable because it is based on currently available technology and realistic deployment rates." However, experts recognize the “need to combine aggressive energy efficiency on the demand side with accelerated renewable energy supply from all possible sources. This requires a paradigm shift towards long-term, integrated strategies and will not be met with small, incremental changes."

The report of Dutch scientists is interesting because it goes beyond the energy sector. It analyzes global trends in industry, construction, transport, agriculture and housing, as well as the food sector for the next 40 years. It also considers various geopolitical aspects. For example, the authors argue that the steel and paper production in the industrialized countries will be reduced by moving to developing countries, together with the relevant pollution from these technologies.

The conclusions of Dutch scientists are confirmed by the so called Obama Energy Plan , the scenario of energy production for the period up to 2050. In the overall picture of the U.S. energy future, one can clearly see the prevalence of renewable energy, whereas, for example, nuclear power loses its already small scales.

The authors of the report conclude that if global changes in favor of renewable energy take place, this will result in decline of asthma and respiratory diseases, prevention of oil spills, and, of course, will make a major contribution against global climate change. Plus more jobs.

Experts believe that the barriers to the development of renewable energy sources are not in technology, but in lack of political will and in organized opposition from the powerful lobby of energy companies working with fossil fuels. For example, according to Bloomberg , when the U.S. government was considering legislation to encourage rejection of use of hydrocarbons, Exxon, the richest private corporation in the world, spent more money on lobbying than all U.S. industry has spent for the efforts for promotion of renewable energy in the whole history.

The authors of the report "Transition to a fully sustainable global energy system" call projects for oil and gas extraction in the Arctic "dark and dreary". Dutch scientists are wondering how, despite the presence of a real alternative for the development of clean energy sources, the plans that throw humanity into the "dirty past" can still be considered reasonable.

Despite some seemingly utopian features of the Dutch report, the actual status of renewable energy in the world as a whole confirms the trends note by European researchers: development of renewable energy is considerably ahead of other segments of the energy market.

Against this background, the success of Russia is much more modest, currently only about 1 %. The prospects indicated by the International Energy Agency are not encouraging either: increase up to 1.6 % by 2035, while 53-% global increase is forecasted for the same period.

Where can serious prospects come from? Nothing has changed in the Russian energy space since adoption in 2010-11of amendments to the Federal Law N35 "On Electric Power Industry". However, in early 2012, the Ministry of Energy sent out a draft package of measures to stimulate production of electricity from renewable sources. This set of documents describes further lawmaking up to the end of 2013 and is focused on implementation of the amendments to the Law "On Electric Power Industry" to favour development of alternative energy sources. However, the experts of "Business Russia" that organized public hearings on the initiative of the Ministry of Energy said that these innovations will not cause "renewable energy boom" in Russia.