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Is a renewable energy future possible?

While countries like Germany and Denmark is aiming for 80–100 percent renewable energy by 2050 through cross country grid sharing, others seem more reluctant with realistic assumptions and doubtful about the possibility of a full global renewable energy future. Both Norway and India are facing severe challenges in the transition to a sustainable energy future.

Tre energibilder

2015 was marked by two groundbreaking events. On September 25th, United Nations General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Among the 17 goals to be achieved by 2030, goal number 7 aims to «[e]nsure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all».

The Paris Agreement was adopted on the 12thDecember 2015. It set the target of holding the increase in the global average temperature «to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels». 

Together, the SDGs and the Paris Agreement defines a normative development trajectory with implications for both developed and developing countries, the implications for the use of fossil fuels or other energy sources with varying risk perceptions however are disputed. While a number of commentators to the Paris Agreement have argued that it implies an end to the fossil fuels era without  a target year for that and there are few signs that any of the fossil fuel producers have clear plans to halt their production prematurely.

As argued in Norway White Paper on Energy with reference to World Energy Outlook 2015, «due to growth in demand it is expected that fossil fuels will play a central role in the global energy markets for a long-time to come, despite increasing investments in renewable energy» (White Paper 25, 2015– 2016, p. 107–108).

Norway expand oil production

Hence, Norway – Europe’s biggest oil and gas producer – intends to expand production in some of the riskiest and most environmentally sensitive areas. In the last license round, the Government issued 56 new licenses to allow 36 companies «to explore near the picturesque Lofoten islands, home to some of the world’s richest cod stocks, as well as in the North and Barents seas» (Vidal, 2016).

Norway, some argue, seemingly «want other countries to leave their coal and oil in the ground to meet new global climate change targets» (Vidal, 2016). Oil and gas production represents 28 percent of Norway’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs), and has grown by 82,8 percent since 1990.

In contrast to the expanding oil and gas activities, the Norwegian Environment Agency’s (2014) roadmap to decarbonize the Norwegian economy, assumes that «emissions from the oil and gas sector are expected to rise until 2020 and then decline during the rest of the period up to 2050». With the new expansion, however, this is highly uncertain (even with some electrification).

In the roadmap, it is argued that «[i]f Norway is to reduce its emissions to the global average range consistent with the two-degree target, i.e. 1.5—3.1 tonnes per head, total emissions must be cut from the current level of 52.7 million tonnes CO2-eq to 10.2—20.4 million tonnes CO2-eq, assuming that the population rises to 6.6 million. This is equivalent to cutting emissions by 60—80 percent relative to the 1990 level».

The overall conclusion of the review is that «it is likely to be possible to reduce Norway’s emissions to around 7—12 million tonnes CO2-eq in 2050. Assuming a population of 6.6 million in 2050, this corresponds to per capita emissions of 1—2 tonnes CO2-eq.».The Norwegian INDC, however, is not clear on where GHG emission reductions are to be taken – in Norway, or elsewhere in Europe.

India's energy demand increases

At the same time, it seems impossible for India to get rid of coal based power generation capacity before 2050. India with almost more than half of the population without any access to modern energy till date is seen both as an opportunity as well as challenge in fuel choice looking ahead with rising production, consumption needs with rising absolute number of population.

Many see this as an opportunity for leapfrog to renewable energy without following usual path of coal, oil, gas and electricity. An attempt was made at national initiative long back in 1986 onwards with start of Ministry of New Renewable Energy. The large societal experiments since then have yielded multiple lessons worth assessment for deciding on current push for leapfrog.

Lessons learnt have proved that decentralized generation need huge societal, institutional and governance challenge, huge rebound effect in a socio-economic context with huge unmet/unsatiated demand grid connection for all in India is a basic necessity.

Unlike developed countries India is still far away from excess power generation capacity. It has at least double it’s current capacity to build for providing access to modern energy for all so the need for baseload still continue. Fossil fuel, nuclear are some such proven technology based solutions which are in consideration in India and huge expansion of renewable is simultaneously being stressed to be injected in grid.  

Transition possible? 

In this backdrop, it is reasonable to ask the question whether a full renewable energy future is possible and by what time line and what it would take to make such a transition?

While countries like Germany and Denmark is aiming for 80–100 percent renewable energy by 2050 through cross country grid sharing, others seem more reluctant with all realistic assumptions, pessimistic and doubtful about the possibility of a full global renewable energy future.

Although the context of developing and developed countries is different, both Norway and India are facing severe challenges in the transition to a sustainable energy future. Can such a transition be a renewable energy future?

The possibility of such a transition is the theme for this workshop.

References: 
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/22/un-climate-change-signing-ceremony

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/12/paris-climate-deal-200-nations-sign-finish-fossil-fuel-era

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/12/12/opinions/sutter-cop21-climate-reaction/

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/paris-agreement-expectations-COP21-wrapup/blog/55112/

http://www.euractiv.com/section/climate-environment/news/norwegian-industry-plans-to-up-fossil-fuel-production-despite-paris-pledge/

https://www.ssb.no/natur-og-miljo/statistikker/klimagassn/aar-forelopige/2016-05-20