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Renewable energy revolution

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Greenpeace has released the latest edition of its Energy [R]evolution series, first produced in 2005. The 364-page report has been produced by numerous experts and institutions.1

The Energy [R]evolution reports have an impressive track record. Energy consulting firm Meister Consultants Group noted in March 2015: "Over the past 15 years, a number of predictions − by the International Energy Agency, the US Energy Information Administration, and others − have been made about the future of renewable energy growth. Almost every one of these predictions has underestimated the scale of actual growth experienced by the wind and solar markets. Only the most aggressive growth projections, such as Greenpeace's Energy [R]evolution scenarios, have been close to accurate."2

The Energy [R]evolution provides mid-term projections but the focus of the report is much more ambitious and much less certain − mapping out a pathway to 100% renewable energy by 2050.

The report proposes a phase-out of fossil fuels starting with lignite by 2035, followed by coal (2045), then oil and then finally gas (2050). As with fossil fuels, nuclear power is also phased out "as fast as technically and economically possible".

The report details the extraordinary growth of renewables over the past decade, with 783 GW of new renewable power generation capacity installed from 2005 to 2014. However "the overall transition away from fossil and nuclear fuels to renewables is far too slow to combat dangerous climate change." Over the past decade almost as much new coal capacity (750 GW) has been installed as renewables.

Hence the need for coordinated plans and political commitment to rapidly replace dirty energy sources with renewables. Under the Energy [R]evolution scenario, the world would stay within the IPCC's 1,000 gigatonne "carbon budget" − total carbon emissions between 2012 and 2050 would be 744 gigatonnes in the Energy [R]evolution scenario and 667 gigatonnes in an 'Advanced' Energy [R]evolution scenario. The report envisages global emissions peaking at the end of this decade, a return to 1990 levels in 2030, a 60% reduction by 2040 and near-zero emissions in 2050 (excluding some non-energy sectors such as steel production).


In the electricity sector, demand should be constrained by energy efficiency measures but even so there will be growing demand because of the electrification of transport and the need to generate synthetic fuels to replace fossil fuels.

The share of electricity generated by renewables doubles from 21% to 42% by 2030 under the Energy [R]evolution scenario, then expands to 72% in 2040 and 100% in 2050. Measures proposed to incorporate fluctuating power sources into reliable electricity systems include smart grids, demand side management, and energy storage.


2012 capacity (GW)

Greenpeace 2050

Energy [R]evolution (GW)

Greenpeace 2050

Advanced Energy [R]evolution (GW)

















Solar PV





solar power












Heating and transport

Renewables meet around 21% of current global energy demand for heating − almost all of it biomass. In the Energy [R]evolution scenarios, energy efficiency measures reduce growing demand for heating by 33% in 2050, with the use of fossil fuels for heating replaced by a portfolio of renewable heating (solar collectors, geothermal, renewable energy-produced hydrogen) and biomass.

Decarbonising transport can largely be achieved by growing and electrifying public transport systems, as well as encouraging the uptake of ever-improving electric vehicles. Aviation and shipping are particularly difficult, but planes and ships could be powered using biofuels, hydrogen and synthetic fuels produced using electricity. Under the Energy [R]evolution scenario, just over half of road transport energy demand is met by electricity by 2050.

Jobs and costs

At every stage in the transition to 100% renewable energy, there are more energy sector jobs. The number rises from 29 million now to 48 million jobs in 2030. Solar PV would provide 9.7 million jobs by 2030, equal to the number of people working in the coal industry today. Jobs in wind power would grow to over 7.8 million, which is twice as many as are employed in oil and gas today

In the Energy [R]evolution scenario, US$48 trillion in investments is largely offset by US$39 trillion in fuel cost savings. In the Advanced Energy [R]evolution scenario, US$64.6 trillion in investments is mostly offset by US$42 trillion in fuel cost savings.

International Energy Agency report

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has released its 'Renewable Energy Medium-Term Market Report'.3 The report notes that renewable electricity expanded at its fastest rate to date (130 GW) in 2014 and accounted for more than 45% of net additions to world capacity in the power sector.

Further, the IEA projects 700 GW of new renewable power capacity from 2015−2020, and that renewables will account for almost two-thirds of new power generation capacity over that period. The renewable share of generation is projected to rise from 22% in 2013 to over 26% in 2020.

The IEA report states that global average costs for onshore wind generation fell by 30% from 2010−2015, and are expected to decline a further 10% by 2020. Utility-scale solar PV fell two-thirds in cost and is expected to decline another 25% by 2020.

The IEA report states that renewables are not a "luxury" that only rich countries can afford. The report states that "the geography of deployment will increasingly shift to emerging economies and developing countries, which will make up two-thirds of the renewable electricity expansion to 2020. China alone will account for nearly 40% of total renewable power capacity growth and requires almost one-third of new investment to 2020."

Another report recently released by the IEA noted that renewable electricity generation has overtaken gas to become the second largest source of electricity worldwide, behind only coal. Renewables produced 22% of total electricity or 5,130 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2013, more than double nuclear power's output of 2,359 TWh.4

Meanwhile, the Energy Watch Group has released a report detailing the IEA's track record of grossly underestimating the growth of renewables.5 For example:

  • in 2010 the IEA projected 180 GW of solar PV capacity by the year 2024 but that figure was reached in January 2015.
  • the IEA's 2002 projection for wind power capacity in the year 2030 was actually reached 20 years earlier, in 2010.
  • the IEA's 2010 projection of renewable energy's share of global electricity generation in 2035 has already been reached ... 20 years earlier!


1. Greenpeace International, September 2015, 'Energy [R]evolution: A sustainable world energy outlook 2015',

2. Meister Consultants Group, 16 march 2015, Renewable Energy Revolution,

3. International Energy Agency, Oct 2015, 'Renewable Energy Medium-Term Market Report',

4. IEA, 'Electricity Information 2015',

Free excerpt:

Media release:

5. Matthieu Metayer, Christian Breyer and Hans-Josef Fell, 2015, 'The projections for the future and quality in the past of the World Energy Outlook for solar PV and other renewable energy technologies',