New model tests potential for 100% renewables by 2050
A collaboration between the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and the University of Melbourne (UM) will develop a series of advanced regional decarbonisation pathways that could limit global warming to 1.5˚C.
The Paris Agreement, signed by 195 countries in 2016, and ratified by 168 countries as of Oct. 11, 2017 establishes a goal of limiting average global temperature rise to well below 2˚C, with efforts to achieve a 1.5˚C limit above pre-industrial levels. Most currently proposed pathways are not sufficiently ambitious to achieve this goal without reliance upon unproven geo-engineering strategies.
The new high-ambition effort hopes to fill this gap by demonstrating the feasibility of achieving the 1.5˚C target through 100% renewable energy by mid-century, combined with a portfolio of natural climate solutions (NCS), including marine and terrestrial conservation, reforestation, and carbon-negative agricultural practices.
The effort was initiated and funded by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation as part of a larger $20 million grant round announced earlier this year that aims to accelerate innovative solutions to the climate crisis, ocean and land conservation initiatives, and indigenous rights.
“This is one of the first efforts of its kind, and we hope to spark a debate questioning unproven ‘negative emission’ technologies such as Bio-energy with Carbon Capture & Storage (BECCS),” said Dr. Sven Teske, the project’s lead scientist and Research Director at the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures. “A 100% renewable energy scenario by 2050 that meets the 1.5˚C target without negative emissions has not yet been published in the scientific literature.”
BECCS and other geoengineering strategies have not been proven to work at scale and encourage the continued use of fossil fuels after 2050. Furthermore, strategies like BECCS have significant social and environmental implications, requiring the burning of vast expanses of forest and the potential dislocation of forest-dependent communities.
Renewable energy offers an alternative. In the past few years the incremental cost per kilowatt for solar and wind generation has dropped rapidly, while the availability of hydrogen and electric vehicles has dramatically increased. At current rates of growth, the world could meet approximately 12.5% of its energy demand with renewables by 2020, allowing for a rapid expansion of the renewable energy sector as legacy combustion plants are retired in the 2020-2040 timeframe.
Announced at the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Bonn, the high-ambition climate scenario will break down demand and conversion for all four energy sectors -- power, buildings, industry and transport – across 10 regions. The power sector of each region will be modelled in hourly increments to assess storage demand and demand-side management options for the integration of high percentages of variable energy sources, such as solar and wind.
The project will utilize the MAGICC platform (Model for Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Induced Climate Change), taking into account a wide range of greenhouse gas sources. In addition to energy-related carbon and methane emissions, the model will incorporate emissions from deforestation and land-use change and emissions from the agricultural sector.
"We are pushing the limits of ambition, because we must,” said Karl Burkart, the Director of Media & Technology at the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. “We just reached 1˚C in global warming and already we are seeing disastrous consequences. It is a moral imperative to keep the world below 1.5˚C, and we believe 100% renewable energy, combined with natural climate solutions, could get us there.”
The transition to renewable energy will require a significant investment of capital, a point often made by critics of high-ambition energy scenarios. But governments are currently providing massive subsidies to fund the ongoing extraction, transportation and processing of fossil fuels, which are responsible for 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. A new study published in the journal World Development places total fossil fuel subsidies at $5.3 trillion in 2015 alone.
Diverting just a portion of these subsidies to renewable energy would unlock a massive acceleration in clean energy supply, providing enormous societal benefits. A recent paper published in Joule estimates that switching to 100% renewable energy would create an additional 24 million long-term jobs; decrease more than 4 million pollution-related deaths per year; and provide annual savings of over $20 trillion in health and climate impact costs through 2050.
Even without subsidies, renewable energy is now becoming cost-competitive with conventional coal or gas-powered thermoelectric plants in many regions, and far less costly than new nuclear plants, making it an appealing option for both developing and OECD countries.
About the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF)
Based at the University of Technology Sydney, one of Australia’s leading technology universities, ISF is an interdisciplinary research and consulting organisation setting global benchmarks since 1997 in helping governments, NGOs, businesses and communities achieve long term sustainable solutions that protect and enhance the environment, human wellbeing and social equity. In the key focus area of climate change and the energy sector, ISF has developed advanced models to holistically examine the global energy system, region by region -- from financing and business models, to policy and regulation, to technological and infrastructure analysis, including links to urban water and waste systems. www.uts.edu.au/research-and-teaching/our-research/institute-sustainable-futures
About the German Aerospace Center (DLR)
The DLR is one of Germany’s largest federal research centers with a staff of 8,000. Its program includes the fields of energy and transport, specifically for efficient energy systems and the technological, environmental, and economic potentials of renewable energy in the context of energy economy, advanced energy system modeling, development of energy scenarios, and the analysis of future vehicle concepts for road and rail traffic. Find out more about the DLR here.
About University of Melbourne (UM)
UM co-leads a new bilateral research collaboration with top German institutions including Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) to perform research into the economic opportunities of a zero carbon future. Also, the University of Melbourne houses the Australian-German Climate & Energy College where the MAGICC climate model is maintained that is used throughout various IPCC Assessment reports, including the forthcoming Special Report on 1.5˚C. Find out more about the Climate and Energy College here.
About Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF)
The LDF is dedicated to the long-term health and wellbeing of all Earth’s inhabitants. The foundation support projects around the world that build climate resiliency, protect vulnerable wildlife from extinction, and restore balance to threatened ecosystems and communities. LDF’s grantmaking program, totaling over $80M to date, supports conservation projects and innovative solutions in 60 countries. The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation is a component fund of the California Community Foundation. Find out more about the LDF here.
Dr Sven Teske, ISF - Sven.Teske@uts.edu.au
Karl Burkart, LDC - firstname.lastname@example.org