Renewable energy picking up fast but fossil fuels just not going away

Carbon emissions are not expected to peak before 2026.

Wind and solar energy is growing at record speeds and prices dropping fast. The renewable sector increased its contribution from 9.1 percent in 2014 to 10.3 in 2015. But even that is not enough to effect the amount of carbon emission cuts required to check irreversible climate change, says a new report from UNEP and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

True, renewables accounted for half of all the new electricity capacity installed in 2015 and nations invested $286 billion on renewable energy, which is twice what was spent on coal and gas. But, sorry that is still not good enough on two counts. One, the damage already done with over 400 ppm of planet warming carbon put in the atmosphere is way too much. Two, there seems to be no pause in fossil fuel reliance.

Around 43 gigawatts worth of coal capacity and 40 gigawatts worth of natural gas capacity was added last year. This trend will continue as fossil fuels are still the most reliable form of energy. Global power sector emissions are not expected to peak before 2026, says the report.

This trend is also highlighted in the report from McKinsey that says coal and natural gas will provide half of the global electricity in 2040. This report too sees a surge in renewables across the world, almost by thrice the present numbers.

In the next 25 years, renewable energy will account for an estimated 43 percent of Africa's new power plants, 48 percent of Asia's, and 63 percent of Latin America's. Asia alone will add 1,587 units. All that will still only make up 17 percent of the total energy mix by 2040 with coal and natural gas providing the rest.

According to a recent study, Texas A&M University at Galveston the two degree threshold rise in temperature will require an energy mix with 50 percent renewables as soon as 2028 from the current 9 percent. This means a 37-fold increase in wind energy from levels in 2015 as also similar increases with other renewable sources.

The McKinsey report also predicts the shale phenomenon will abate, and Saudi Arabia reasserting itself as the world's leading oil producer in 2030. Around a billion will still lack access to electricity in 2030.

The carbon budget that is left for the world as a whole to burn to avoid the threshold is a little less than a 1000 bn tones. This could finish in two decades at present rates of fossil fuel burn. The world has already locked into a 1.5C rise and experts have warned this could go as high as 4C by end of the century when catastrophic climate change will bring in extreme weather.