Perspectives for the Clean Energy Transition
Comment of the Day

April 29 2019

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Perspectives for the Clean Energy Transition

This report from the International Energy Agency may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

In contrast to current trends, the Faster Transition Scenario sets out a vision for an extremely ambitious transformation of the energy sector. Energy-related emissions peak around 2020 and drop 75% to around 10 gigatonnes of CO2 (GtCO2) per year by 2050. The carbon intensity of the power sector falls by more than 90% and the end-use sectors see a 65% drop, thanks to energy efficiency, uptake of renewable energy technologies and shifts to low-carbon electricity.

Electrification plays a major role in the transition, combined with clean power generation. Electricity’s share in final energy reaches about 35% by 2050, compared to less than 20% today. That growth is mainly due to adoption of heat pumps in buildings and industry, as well as a swift evolution in transport. Efficiency improvements keep electricity demand for other end uses, such as lighting and cooling, relatively stable, while access to electricity improves worldwide.

Eoin Treacy's view

One of the biggest challenges facing the environment is the emotionality of the debate. It is almost impossible to discuss objective facts versus subjective opinion. Until this century there was no record of a hurricane in the South Atlantic, but now there have been three. Baobab trees that stood for thousands of years in Africa are dying and coral bleaching is taking over an increasingly large percentage of the world’s reefs. These are facts that point toward a changing climate.

Fossil fuels continue to deliver unprecedented human development. Coal, oil and gas drive the entire global economy and have played a significant role in the ability of society to sustain populations that number in the billions.

The only way we can continue to drive the pace of human development is if we can figure out how to further intensify energy usage while controlling its cost. Oil prices are significantly above where they traded a decade ago but natural gas and coal are back at levels that prevailed before the commodities bull market. Unconventional gas production is the primary reason for that development while high energy prices justified the building of intermittent renewable infrastructure.

Emissions targets are a sideshow compared to the need to promote human development. More advanced economies are more efficient and generally less polluting. The question about how much to cut emissions by is a subjective estimate and we have no real idea whether it will affect the climate in the way we hope.

On the other hand, we know exactly what kind of benefits accrue from delivering more advanced economies. The logic is clear. If we want to preserve the global climate the answer is to do everything possible to promote economic growth and efficiency.

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