“Cheap vs clean” dichotomy no longer relevant as renewables build up steam globally: IRENA

Doubling the world’s share of renewable energy capacity would have the effect of nearly halving global carbon emissions compared to 1990 levels, a new report has found.

The report, released on Monday by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), warns that under current policies and national plans, reductions in average carbon dioxide emissions would be insufficient to prevent catastrophic climate change.

But according to the IRENA report, the first in a series called Rethinking Energy, a doubling of the world’s share of renewables would reduce global average CO2 emissions 349 g/kWh – the equivalent to a 40 per cent intensity reduction on 1990 levels.

To achieve this, however, would require stable and predictable policy framework, a fair go against fossil fuels, and annual investment of at least $550 billion by 2030.

“(Renewables) need a level playing field, including cutting back on the substantial subsidies currently enjoyed by fossil fuels worldwide,” the report says.

“Renewable energy investors need stable and predictable policy frameworks, which recognise the system-level benefits renewable energy can bring.”

But regardless of these support mechanisms, the transformation of the global energy market was inevitable, said the report – especially now that governments were waking up to the fact that renewables could be an economic boon.

“Combined with international efforts to curb climate change, calls for universal access, and a growing demand for energy security, I believe it is no longer a matter of whether but of when a systematic switch to renewable energy takes place – and how well we manage the transition,” said IRENA director general, Adnan Amin, at the report’s release on Monday.

“The good news is that renewable energy provides a viable and affordable solution to address climate change today,” he added.

“And while the outlook for renewable power is bright, we need to rethink the mechanisms which have, up to this point, brought renewables into the mainstream and prepare for the next stage of this global transformation.”

As the report notes, the declining cost of deployment of renewable energy technologies like solar and wind means the perceived economic trade-off of “cheap vs clean” is fast losing relevance.

“This false dichotomy becomes even more apparent as economists develop tools to measure the broader impact of power generation, such as the cost of pollution and
fuel price volatility,” the report says.

“Effective analysis of the costs and benefits of different forms of energy should take into account a much wider view of economic development than is now the case, including the balance of trade, industrial development, growth in gross domestic product (GDP), employment, energy access and health.”

© 2014 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Giles Parkinson