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100% Renewable by 2050 is ‘Realistic’, But Depends on Policy Certainty, Investment

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A 100% renewable energy future is both feasible and realistic by 2050, according to more than 70% of the 114 global energy experts interviewed for the 2017 Renewables Global Futures Report.

More than 90% of the experts interviewed agree that renewable energy technologies serve to lower the barrier for communities to gain access to energy services,” states a news release [1] from the Sydney, Australia-based REN21 Secretariat, issued just ahead of the Sustainable Energy for All Forum in New York City earlier this week. “An estimated 100 million people now receive electricity via distributed renewable energy systems, and markets for such systems are growing rapidly.”

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The release notes that “numerous companies, regions, islands, and cities have set 100% renewable energy targets,” and “even large international corporations are increasingly choosing renewable energy products, either from utilities or through direct investment in their own generating capacity.” But it warns that “the lack of long-term policy certainty and the absence of a stable climate for investment in energy efficiency and renewables hinder development in most countries.”

When REN21 was founded in 2004, “the future of renewable energy looked very different than it does today,” said Project Chair Arthouros Zervos. “At that time, calls for 100% renewable energy were not taken seriously. Today, the world’s leading energy experts are engaged in rational discussions about its feasibility, and in what time frame.”

But “wishful thinking won’t get us there,” stressed Executive Secretary Christine Lins. “Only by fully understanding the challenges, and engaging in informed debate about how to overcome them, can governments adopt the right policies and financial incentives to accelerate the pace of deployment.”

The REN21 report—accompanied by an interactive map and a collection of 50 infographics—is organized around 12 “Great Debates” in which the 114 energy experts took part. They included the prospects for energy efficiency at the global level, the future of utilities, heating, and renewables for transport, the interconnections between sectors, the role of storage, the role of mega-cities, and how renewables can enable energy access.

In introducing the Great Debates, REN21 stresses that its purpose in canvassing a wide array of specialist opinion was to “present the complex and nuanced opinions and discussions of energy experts from all over the world,” not to publish an advocacy document.

“Holding global average temperature rise well below 2.0°C, not to mention a much safer limit of 1.5°C, requires nothing short of the complete decarbonization of the energy sector,” it states. “But the world is a complex place; what works in one country doesn’t necessarily work in another. Finding solutions for some sectors is easier than for others. The stakes are high—financially, environmentally, and socially—and as the transition progresses, there will be clear winners and losers.”