Renewables are Not Taking Over the World

By Bjørn Lomborg – Re-Blogged From WUWT

We’re constantly being told how renewables are close to taking over the world.

We’re told they are so cheap they’ll undercut fossil fuels and reign supreme pretty soon.

That would be nice. If they were cheaper, they could cut our soaring electricity bills. With cheap and abundant power, they would push development for the world’s poorest. And it would, of course, fix climate change.

Unfortunately, it is also mostly an illusion. Renewables are not likely to take over the world anytime soon.

It is also crucial for us to know. The misapprehension that renewables are just about to take over makes many believe that we have all the technologies needed to go to zero CO₂. That we just need more political will. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.

Jim Hansen, Al Gore’s climate advisor and the scientist who literally started the global warming worry in 1988 puts it clearly: “Suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.”

To fix climate change, we need to stop believing in the Easter Bunny and start realizing that without much better, cheaper, green technology, we won’t transition away from fossil fuels. That’s why we need to invest a lot more into green energy R&D. If we can help innovate green energy to become cheaper and better than fossil fuels, *everyone* will switch. Not just rich, well-meaning first-worlders, but also China, India and Africa.

The video shows how we’ve spent the last two centuries getting *off* renewable energy. In 1800, most energy came from our own back-breaking work, along with wood (for fire) and draught animals. Wind and water contributed in most places a tiny fraction. The 6% fossil fuel was almost entirely England starting up the industrial revolution with coal.

What made us rich over the next two centuries, was cheap and plentiful energy, almost exclusively from fossil fuels. It made it possible for us to have machines do much more of the hard work. By the end of the nineteenth century human labor made up 94 percent of all industrial work in the US. Today, it constitutes just 8 percent.

For the past half century, renewable energy has hovered around 13-14%, most of it wood burning in the world’s poorest regions (leading to the world’s leading environmental killer, indoor air pollution).

The International Energy Agency estimates that if *everyone* live up to their Paris promises (and other promises), we’ll get to 20% in 2040. Since almost no-one is actually performing on their Paris promises, the business-as-usual scenario of 16.5% is more likely.

The UN’s Climate Panel has devised 5 main scenarios (the SSPs), showcasing development over the rest of the century. Even the greenest scenario, the SSP1, will by the end of the century just get 45% of its energy from renewables.

The UN scenarios are without explicit climate policies, but the stories of SSP1 is centered around environmental focus: “The world shifts gradually, but pervasively, toward a more sustainable path, emphasizing more inclusive development that respects perceived environmental boundaries. Management of the global commons slowly improves, educational and health investments accelerate the demographic transition, and the emphasis on economic growth shifts toward a broader emphasis on human well-being. Driven by an increasing commitment to achieving development goals, inequality is reduced both across and within countries. Consumption is oriented toward low material growth and lower resource and energy intensity.”

To give you a sense of this: the SSP1 expects that by 2100, the average rich person in the world will have to get by on *half* the energy we have today (and this is final energy, not TPES). The average person in the developing world, while getting more energy than today will have to live with never getting to half on what the average rich person gets today. This is a scenario with little development, populated by very modest people and overall a very unrealistic world.


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