From an older edition of the Economist: “The International Energy Agency, a think-tank, estimates that 13.5% of the world’s primary energy supply was produced from renewable sources in 2013. That sounds like a decent slice, but almost three-quarters of this renewable energy came from what are euphemistically known as “biofuels”. This mostly means burning wood, dung and charcoal in poor countries. Hydro-electric power, which has fallen from favour in the West because of its often ruinous effect on river ecosystems, was the world’s second most important source of renewable energy. Nuclear power, which is green but not renewable, supplied 5% of energy needs, and falling. Wind turbines, solar farms, tidal barriers, geothermal power stations and the like produced just 1.3% between them.”
Now, renewables have been growing strongly, but it is clear that they have a long way to go before they replace oil and natural gas.
What that makes clear is that efforts at mitigation cannot rely on ‘new’ renewables (wind, solar and biofuels, including ethanol) to get the job done.
This doesn’t mean we consign renewables to the dustbin of history. Far from it. We need to keep pushing not only on renewables but on the enabling technologies (storage, battery improvements, smart grids, etc.) that will accelerate their take-up.
But that can only be a part of our strategy. We also need to focus on initiatives such as Fast Mitigation, the removal of black soot, CHFCs, methane and the reversal of deforestation.
We need to work harder on energy efficiency–‘negawatts’ usually mean a lump of coal isn’t burned. We also need to stop doing stupid things. Airplanes fly longer routes than necessary because of no-fly zones put in place for the Cold War that could easily be removed (although we might want to leave them for the Ukraine for now). We could mandate the accelerated take-up of energy efficient aircraft and ships for that matter.
I wrote in an earlier post that successful mitigation was far more likely to consist of 50 ‘Two Percent Solutions’ than one over-riding answer.
Renewables can be one of those Two Percent Solutions. It has the potential to be a lot more. But renewables alone cannot be our answer to climate change.