Saturday, April 25, 2015

Is the End Really Nigh for Fossil Fuels? Or Is the Future Simply Advanced Energy?

Fossil Fuels Just Lost the Race Against Renewables,” reads the hyperbolic headline from Tom Randall, writing for Bloomberg Business.  “This is the beginning of the end,” the subhead piles on.  This report of the death of fossil fuel-powered electricity generation may be exaggerated.  But looking closely at Randall’s article, the triumph of advanced energy seems even more of a sure thing.

The source of Randall’s hyperventilation (or the headline writer’s) is Bloomberg New Energy Finance founder Michael Liebreich’s keynote address at the annual BNEF New Energy Summit.  There, Liebreich announced that, in new generating capacity installed globally in 2013, “clean” energy – including nuclear power, hydro, solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and waste – edged out oil, coal, and natural gas, 143 GW to 141 GW.  In BNEF’s forecast, the gap grows wider this year and beyond:  164 GW “clean” to 110 GW fossil in 2015; 279 GW “clean” to 64 GW fossil in 2030.  (Download the full presentation here.)

Fossil fuel vs. clean energy generating capacity installed and projected globally (Credit: / Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance) Click to Enlarge.
“The electricity system is shifting to clean,” Liebreich declared.  “Despite the change in oil and gas prices there is going to be a substantial buildout of renewable energy that is likely to be an order of magnitude larger than the buildout of coal and gas.”

In fact, the fossil fuel capacity projected to decline sharply over the coming years is mainly coal and oil; natural gas-fired capacity stays relatively steady in the BNEF projection, at roughly 50 GW per year through 2030.  (See graph’s from Liebreich’s presentation.)  AEE considers natural gas turbines “advanced energy,” as the cleanest and most efficient technology for fossil fuel power generation, as well as all of the sources Liebreich considers “clean.”

But the game changer, Liebreich rightly argues (and Randall correctly reports) is the steadily growing role of wind and solar in the new power mix, today and going forward.  Randall also cites a scenario developed by the International Energy Agency under which solar, now accounting for less than 1 percent of electricity generation, could be the single largest power source worldwide by 2050.

The surge in these renewable energy sources is the result of a trend many years in the making.  The cost of manufacturing and installing advanced energy technology has been dropping consistently.  Solar and wind reaching cost parity with fossil fuels was one of the top 10 advanced energy news stories of 2014.  Back then we wrote, “utilities and large energy users in the private sector started to choose advanced energy simply because it was cheaper.”

Read more at Is the End Really Nigh for Fossil Fuels?   Or Is the Future Simply Advanced Energy?

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