There’s no time to waste if we are going to hold the Earth’s temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius as countries pledged in Paris recently. To do it, investment in research, innovation and the deployment of proven clean-energy technologies must happen simultaneously — and now — according to global climate experts.
Pundits talk about the innovations that will be needed to reach the goal. But deploying already-developed technology worldwide matters as much or more. Ever-more-affordable solar, wind and geothermal power sources that are ready must be put into action.
Maria van der Hoeven, the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) until August 2015, says: “Clean-energy deployment is not at the level where it needs to be. It is now crucial for governments and other stakeholders to take effective decisions for energy sustainability.” The IEA calls for a sharp increase in deployment in its report Energy Perspectives 2015.
More use of proven, cost-effective technologies — whether state-of-the-art solar, wind and power-storage technologies, or smarter, distributed-energy grids — will stimulate innovation and lower renewable-energy prices.
Where to put the money
As renewables are deployed, cost savings can go toward new research and development. Carbon capture and storage, for instance, could help industries that will take decades to wind down their dependence on fossil fuels. “It is a highly contested technology, but if they want to save their industry, they should be investing like crazy in proving the [carbon-capture] technology,” Columbia University economist Jeffrey D. Sachs told the New York Times.
More deployment of better batteries can help too. The recently unveiled Tesla Powerwall is easier to use than standard lithium-ion batteries, yet only stores about one-third of the power an average household uses daily. That’s why Tesla and startups SimpliPhi Power and Orison, among others, are working on improving battery life and operation.
Experts urge that cost savings should also fund research on farther-out solutions, such as nuclear fusion.
Decarbonize here first
Heating and cooling buildings accounts for 40 percent of energy consumption, more than transportation, at 27 percent, according to the International Energy Agency. More renewable technologies applied in buildings could lower the carbon load considerably by 2050.
Emerging markets still growing their energy infrastructures — such as China, India and Brazil — are in position to deploy the latest tech innovations without the expense of retrofitting existing conventional grids. By transitioning from fossil-fuel-heavy industrial processes to new low-carbon technologies, these emerging economies —not members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development— could reduce nearly 75 percent of worldwide industrial greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, helping to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees C., according to the IEA report.
Multinational cooperation, technology transfer and capacity building are all pieces of the deployment solution, and participants in the Paris summit get it.
“We believe that by helping power more of the world with renewable energy … we’re creating a better future for everyone,” a Google blog post says, in announcing that company’s biggest investment ever, which made Google the largest renewable-energy purchaser in the world.
Google’s commitments “provide projects with the financial certainty and scale necessary to build these wind and solar facilities,” the blog post says, and “they also make good business sense by ensuring good prices.”