In 1992, Gussing was a dying town not far from the rusting remains of the Iron Curtain and the capital of one of Austria's poorest districts. Just nine years later, Gussing was energy self-sufficient, producing biodiesel from local rapeseed and used cooking oil, as well as heat and power from the sun, and had a new biomass-steam gasification plant that sold surplus electricity to the national grid. New industries and more than 1,000 jobs flocked to the town. Today, not only do Gussing residents enjoy much higher living standards, they have cut their carbon emissions by more than 90 percent. And Gussing is not an isolated case. The Danish island of Sams0 and several other communities have achieved similar transformations using various combinations of innovations.1
A growing number of towns are rapidly transitioning to low-carbon renewable energy, and larger cities are attempting to follow their lead. But most of the world remains wedded to polluting, carbon-intensive fossil fuels, despite rising economic costs and threats to human health, national security, and the environment. Until recently, fossil fuels were cheap and abundant; as a result, they have been used very inefficiently. The tenfold rise in the price of oil in the past decade and recent increases in natural gas and coal prices mean fossil fuels are no longer cheap, and their volatile prices have devastated many economies. Readily accessible conventional fuels are in increasingly shorter supply as discoveries fail to keep up with demand, and extraction requires developing ever more remote resources and using increasingly drastic measures—from removing mountain tops to heating tar sands. Competition for fossil fuels is heightening international tensions, a trend likely to intensify over time. The urgent need to reduce the release ofcarbon dioxide (CO2) and methane in order to avoid catastrophic climate change has finally focused the
William R. Moomaw is Director of the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy at The Fletcher School at Tufts University.
An Enduring Energy Future world's attention on the need for a rapid shift in how energy services are provided.2 Energy scenarios offer a wide range of estimates of how much renewable sources can contribute and how fast. The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently projected that the share of primary world energy from renewables will remain at 13 percent between 2005 and 2030. But if national policies now under consideration are implemented, that share could rise to 17 percent, and renewables could be generating 29 percent of global electricity by then. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that, with a CO2-equivalent price of up to $50 per ton, renewables could generate 30-35 percent of electricity by 2030. As a 2007 review of global energy scenarios noted, the "energy future we ultimately experience is the result of choice; it is not fate."3 The transition away from fossil fuels involves a dual strategy: reducing the amount of energy required through energy efficiency and then meeting most of the remaining needs with renewable sources. The IEA estimates that $45 trillion in investment, or an average 1 percent of annual global economic output, will be needed between now and 2050 in order to wean the world off oil and cut CO2 emissions in half. It is imperative that the vast majority of these investments be in efficiency improvements and renewable energy.4
Renewables already provide a significant share of the world's energy. In 2007 renewable energy, including large hydro, generated more than 18 percent of global electricity. At least 50 million households use the sun to heat water. Renewable resources are universally distributed, as are the technologies. While much of the current capacity is in the industrial world, developing countries account for about 40 percent of renewable power capacity and 70 percent of existing solar water heating.5
As this chapter describes, a range of renewable technologies are used to produce electricity and meet heating and cooling needs. They are available now and ready for rapid scale-up. Most of them are experiencing annual growth rates in the double digits, with several in the 20-50 percent range. Once these technologies are in place, the fuel for most of them is forever available and forever free. The current technical potential of renewable resources is enormous—many times current global energy use. (See Figure 4-1.)6
Some observers propose that coal with carbon capture and storage or nuclear power may be needed to address climate change while meeting rising energy demand. But renewable energy combined with energy efficiency can do the job, and renewables are the only technologies available right now that can achieve the emissions reductions needed in the near term. Efficiently delivered energy services that use natural energy flows will protect the global climate, strengthen the economy, create millions of new jobs, help developing countries reduce poverty, increase personal and societal security in all countries, reduce international tensions over resources, and improve the health ofpeople and ecosystems alike. Although this chapter focuses on industrial countries and rapidly developing emerging markets, it is important not to forget the needs of people in the poorest economies.
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Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.