“To deliver sustainable energy systems our focus must shift from the supply mix to demand efficiency.” This is the conclusion that Christoph Frei, Secretary-General of the World Energy Council (WEC), draws from the World Energy Scenarios recently published by WEC. According to this new report, “current technologies, policies, and innovation are not enough to meet climate goals”. Despite strong growth in renewables, fossil fuels will remain dominant. Frei concludes that “We are looking in the wrong place to address the issues facing the sector. We need more demand-side investments, innovation, incentives and stronger technical standards to reduce energy intensity.”
The WEC study assesses two policy scenarios: the more consumer-driven “Jazz” scenario, and the more voter-driven “Symphony” scenario, which places greater focus on climate change mitigation and adaption. The report highlights that energy demand is set to double by 2050. To meet this growing demand, total primary energy supply is set to increase by between 27% and 61%.
According to the study the relative contribution of renewables will grow from 15% today to between 20% and 30% in 2050. In particular, the use of solar for electricity generation is set to increase “by up to a staggering 225 times over 2010 levels. Currently solar power only accounts for just over 34 TWh/y in the electricity generation mix, but it could provide somewhere between 2,980 TWh and 7,740 TWh in 2050. This equates to between US$2,950 billion and US$9,660 billion of investment in solar, representing the largest potential investment area of any renewable energy resource.”
However, in absolute terms the volume of fossil fuels used to meet global energy demand will remain dominant, supplying between 77% and 59% of the global primary energy mix. Fossil fuel consumption will decrease at most by a modest 5%. In the Jazz scenario it will increase 55%.
In light of these energy realities, writes the WEC, “even in the best case the world will see a near doubling of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at 490-535 ppm CO2 equivalent by 2050 compared with 1990 levels. At worst, GHG emissions could increase to between 590 and 710 ppm. A significant reduction of CO2 emissions is possible after 2020 in the Symphony scenario; however, it still leaves emissions almost at double the amount compared to 1990 levels.”
Based on these findings, Secretary-General Christoph Frei of the WEC concludes that “The inconvenient truth is: we are looking in the wrong place to address the issues facing the energy sector. The focus of current thinking about the energy system is biased and inadequate. If we are to deliver sustainable energy systems, the focus must shift from the supply mix to demand efficiency. We need more demand-side investments, innovation, incentives, and stronger technical standards to reduce energy intensity.”
Karl Rose, Senior Director, Policies and Scenarios at the World Energy Council, concurs. He notes that “While there will be opportunities in the future for a range of technology solutions, the ultimate issue is that demand continues to grow at an unsustainable rate.”
Frei adds that the WEC report provides “a stark warning about our energy future”, highlighting “the need for clear and robust policy frameworks that reduce political risk, the need for urgent focus in technology development and demonstration in electricity storage and CCS, and the need to manage our carbon budget and minimise our water footprint. Our findings challenge our understanding of and current ability to deliver the resilient infrastructure that we need to face the changes we expect to occur over the coming decades.”
The report’s conclusions are based on a three-year study conducted by over 60 experts from nearly 30 countries, with modelling provided by the Paul Scherrer Institute, Switzerland’s largest research centre for natural and engineering sciences. The World Energy Council, founded in 1923, describes itself as “the only truly global and inclusive forum for thought-leadership and tangible engagement committed to our sustainable energy future.” Its network consists of 93 national committees representing over 3,000 member organizations including governments, industry and expert institutions.