Emissions from coal threaten dangerous levels of global warming despite surge in renewable investment, analysts warn
By Megan Darby
Solar power will surge on US$3.7 trillion of investment in the next 25 years. The revolution will hit rooftops around the world, bringing electricity to many remote villages for the first time.
That is the bullish assessment of analysts at Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).
Meanwhile, energy efficient technology will dampen power demand growth to 1.8% a year, down from 3% 1990-2012.
Yet new coal-fired power generators and legacy fossil fuel plants will undermine the climate gains, the New Energy Outlook 2015 report warns.
“We will see tremendous progress towards a decarbonised power system,” said BNEF chair Michael Liebrich.
But he added “coal will continue to play a big part in world power… unless further radical policy action is taken”.
Carbon dioxide emissions will not peak until 2029, under this analysis, and still be 13% above 2014 levels in 2040.
That makes it “very unlikely” warming can be limited to 2C – the internationally agreed goal – said lead author Seb Henbest.
BNEF forecasts a total US$12.2 trillion of investment in power generation worldwide between 2015 and 2040, with two thirds going into renewables.
This does not count on large scale subsidy for clean energy. Indeed, analysts assumed policy support to most renewables would end in 2018 and to offshore wind by 2030.
Increasingly, they expect economics to drive greater take-up, for example a 47% drop in the cost of solar projects.
Growth in wind, solar and flexible capacity such as batteries and demand response will make for more decentralised power grids.
All the same, fossil sources will fuel 44% of generation in 2040, down from 67% in 2014.
In contrast to energy companies, BNEF sees only a minor role for natural gas in the energy mix.
Oil and gas executives are pitching gas as a cleaner alternative to coal, which they cast as the true climate enemy.
They cite the US shale gas revolution, which has helped to slash emissions by pushing the black stuff off the system.
But BNEF predicts that emerging economies will not be able to resist the allure of cheap and dirty coal. That will “more than offset” the developed world’s shift in the other direction.