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The global risks of climate change and peak fossil fuel

Mitigation method: substitution of fossil fuels by wind and solar energy

 

Global progress report 1 (to December 2010)

Prepared July 2011

 

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  1. Introduction

 

In the design of this website we try to make the content on each page as self-contained as possible. In interpreting this page, however, we particularly strongly recommend that the background paper be read first.

 

In the background paper we have made a case that if the current rate of growth of wind and solar energy production—that which has been observed to the last approximately decade and a half – continues, two major benefits occur. The first is the complete avoidance of the global risk from peak fossil fuel in that the developing shortfall in fossil fuel can be more than made up from the increasingly available wind and solar energy. The second is that while disruptive climate change will continue to get worse, because there are no new carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel after 2030, it will get much less worse than it otherwise would have. In the words of the Abstract to the paper:

 

Climate change and more recently the risk of fossil fuel production being unable to keep pace with demand (peak fossil fuel) are both considered as risks to civilisation, or global risks.

 

In an initial empirical analysis, this paper attempts to answer the following questions, which have often been posed but have not, to our knowledge, been answered empirically at global level. 1: At which date, if unaddressed, will the risks become critical?  2: Given that the substitution of fossil fuels by renewable energy is often proposed as a solution to these problems, what are the current growth rates of renewable energy (here, wind and solar energy are assessed) and can these growth rates substitute wind and solar energy for fossil fuels before the risks become critical?

 

The study finds that the peak fossil fuel risk will start to be critical by 2020 but that the current growth in wind and solar energy, if continued, can prevent it completely. For global warming, the current growth of wind and solar energy provides significant mitigation by reducing carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels to zero by the early 2030s.

 

The upshot of these findings is that the current trend of growth in wind and solar energy can be projected year by year into the future, and then as year-by-year data on the actual growth of wind and solar occurs, one can determine the extent to which we are on track for these beneficial outcomes. If we are not on track, this information makes this clear and may encourage our getting back onto track.

 

It is stressed that we are not claiming that the projection is predictive: rather we use it to show the benefits that will accrue if it does continue, and therefore the worthwhileness of trying  – by better knowledge of the prospect, and by policy –  to make it continue.

 

This webpage provides the first update on the trend since the above model was developed, and shows the extent to which last year’s change in wind and solar power provision is – or is not –  in line with the proposed beneficial trajectory.

 

Having shown this result at global level, the remainder of the report breaks down performance by country, selects particular countries which have either performed substantially better than average or show substantial opportunities for improvement and conducts further policy analysis on some possible reasons for these results.

 

 

 

  1. Data source for progress monitoring and date of release:

BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 08 June 2011

 

Date present analysis posted:

July 2011

 

Next expected main analysis:

July 2012

 

Next expected analyses arising:

Various dates after July 2011

 

 

  1. Results of progress monitoring (data to Dec 2010)

 

 

 

3.1 Global situation in aggregate: previous data (to 2009)

 

In the analysis shown in the paper, data was available for wind and solar growth up to 2009. This is depicted in Figure 1a.

 

In the figure, a linear plot is used to show the relative scale of wind and solar installed energy capacity relative to global total demand and to the business as usual level and trend (references for all sources of data here). The energy scale on the graph is in exajoules (10 to the power 18 joules). Wind and solar is currently a very small one per cent of global commercial energy production.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Figure 2, the scale is changed to logarithmic.

This scale shows that while the level of wind and solar energy is low, its growth is more rapid than primary energy demand  and  very consistently so, for the 15 yearly data points available. The consistency is shown in the very high correlation coefficient of .997 shown on the graph.

 

Figure 3 projects this trend into the future.

 

 

 

 

 

Where the projection intersects with world commercial energy demand shows that, if the growth rate was continued, wind and solar could meet all world energy demand by as soon as 2030.

 

We repeat that we are not claiming  that the projection has any predictive, inevitable quality about it: rather we use it to show the benefits that will accrue if it does continue.

 

In  Figure 4 a prominently published alternative trajectory is shown by the yellow line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How, then has the world gone now there is a year’s extra data and which trajectory is it tending to follow?

 

To help zero in on this one-year change, Figure 5 provides a shorter time series and a smaller growth range and depicts the data as a linear plot.

 

 

 

The addition of the latest data point, for 2010, is given in Figure 6.

 

Figure 6 shows that the amount of wind and solar energy production capacity added in 2010 precisely continued the previous growth trend. As such therefore the planet continues to be on target for the positive outcomes of preventing the energy shortages from peak fossil fuel which would otherwise arise and greatly ameliorating climate change.

With this significant result achieved, the next section provides a country-by-country analysis to indicate which countries have performed over and above the world average and which countries have opportunities for improvement.

 

 

3.2: Situation disaggregated, by country

 

In the country analysis, to enable a fair assessment data is presented (i) per capita; and (ii) initially, in Figure 7, using a logarithmic plot. In this plot type, countries with the same rate of growth display parallel trajectories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the figure, aggregate global performance is shown as the bold red line. The figure shows that over the whole period depicted almost all countries have shown increased output. In particular many countries with lower than world average performance have shown relatively accelerated improvement in output since about 2005.

Of these, Eastern European countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania – have shown particularly marked performance. These countries are the subject of individual analyses below. Countries with similar performance in the 1990s which have not shown such improvement include Argentina, Malaysia and Iran and her there may be opportunities for the transfer of best practice.

 

The assessment of the highest performing countries is assisted by the use of a linear plot which separates the curves with the highest values.  This data is provided in Figure 8.

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 4 shows that the highest performing countries are Denmark, Spain, Germany, Portugal and Ireland: these countries are the subject of individual assessments below.

 

 

3.3 Policy instrument assessment

 

(For example, role of carbon tax or emissions trading schemes, and feed-in tariffs in country performance) (text to follow)

 

3.4 Individual country assessments

 

(Text to follow)