Chapter 4 - Low-carbon technology breaks through
Assuming the three groups of technical measures – efficiency, low-carbon energy supply, and forestry – receive the necessary policy support, the primary question surrounding their impact to 2050 will be one of technological progress.
How big a role can these technologies play? How quickly can they be commercialised and deployed? What scale will be necessary to drive emissions down to the necessary levels?
The necessary abatement potential exists, but its realisation will require a very successful period of technological development – that is the conclusion of the International Energy Agency’s report on Energy Technology Perspectives to 2050.
Energy efficiency is built on changes that are all commercially viable today. The challenge here is overcoming market failures that prevent adoption of measures that are technically and commercially feasible now.
As to non-fossil power generation – renewables and nuclear – given the IEA’s relatively conservative estimations to 2030, the period from 2030 to 2050 would have to see nuclear and wind penetration increase by a factor of 5, and solar concentrating and photovoltaics (PV) installed capacity scale from essentially nothing to almost 2000 GW.
With a significant push, the IEA believes that 30 percent of global power production can be fossil-based and equipped with CCS (carbon dioxide capture and storage) by 2050.
In transport, it is assumed that second-generation biofuels break through commercially without this period, but that ‘push’ policies can increase their penetration.
A similar level of abatement could be achieved from the rapid scaling of hybrid electric and pure electric vehicles, as well as from cars running on hydrogen fuel cells. The former technology is assumed to need a push in terms of cost competitiveness and infrastructure, while the fuel cells will probably not be deployed at all without policy support.
Electrification and use of biofuels in industrial processes that currently burn fossil fuels on site may expand during the period 2030-2050. Nonetheless Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) will need to play a major role in reducing industrial emissions. The period from 2030 to 2050 will need to see a significant expansion in its deployment.
If these technical and economic challenges are met, the platform for the 1-tonne society will be largely in place.
Until 2100, the established abatement technologies will have to essentially scale up to twice their 2050 potential in order to accommodate a growing global economy and the carbon restrictions of 2109’s 1-tonne society.
Carbon Capture and Storage
With the capture and storage of carbon dioxide it is possible to use carbon fuels for energy production without having negative effects on the climate.
Read more about CCS at Vattenfall (new window)
Assuming that the major policy challenges are overcome to facilitate the needed 2030 abatement levels, success to 2050 will be more tightly coupled to technical and economic factors.
Several technologies are still under development, and assumptions about their eventual breakthrough may turn out to be incorrect.
In terms of costs, the economy may need to bear relatively high costs to commercialise some of these technologies at the scale needed. Others may face supply-side constraints.