Yesterday’s blockbuster IPCC global warming report sent a shot across the world, one filled with dread and panic. For those looking for any sliver of good news on the environmental front, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has it in a new report: renewable energy is on pace for rapid expansion across the globe, making up 40% of global energy consumption growth over the next 5 years.
The report looks into three areas of power use: electrical power, heating, and transportation.
Most forms of renewable energy are seeing solid growth around the globe, according to the new report. When a new energy source is needed, it’s increasingly likely that it will be renewable. Solar energy, for example, “accounted for more than two-thirds of global net electricity capacity growth” in 2017.
Even sources with stalled growth—like hydropower, which has faced protest from indigenous people in Brazil, to name one example—still expect to see global growth.
China continues to grab headlines with its increased use of renewables. In terms of solar panels, China, the United States, India and Japan lead the world in growth. For wind projects, the European Union, China, the United States and Vietnam are seen as leaders. China’s massive Baihetan hydropower station will also make it a leader in hydroelectric power. Within the next 5 years, the IEA expects China to account for “37% of global bioenergy” in terms of electrical demands.
The report has a special focus on what the IEA calls “modern bioenergy,” which it deems “the overlooked giant within renewable energy.” Bioenergy—using natural resources for fuel—is the oldest source of energy known to man, going back to burning logs on a fire.
Modern bioenergy, according to the separate International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), refers to “liquid biofuels produced from bagasse and other plants; bio-refineries; biogas produced through anaerobic digestion of residues; wood pellet heating systems; and other technologies.”
“Modern bioenergy is the overlooked giant of the renewable energy field,” says Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, in a press statement. “Its share in the world’s total renewables consumption is about 50% today, in other words as much as hydro, wind, solar and all other renewables combined. We expect modern bioenergy will continue to lead the field, and has huge prospects for further growth.”
Modern biomass isn’t without controversy. A 2017 study by Chatham House showed that woody biomass, like the wood pellets, can emit more carbon per unit of energy than most fossil fuels.
The sector most stuck on fossil fuels is transportation. “While renewable energy in transport is expected to grow by 19% between 2018 and 2023, the overall share remains small,” the report states. The two big sources of renewable transportation remain biofuel, like ethanol, and renewable electricity. Transportation systems, from planes to railways to cars, are built to last for long periods of time.
But there has been demonstrative change within transportation. Virgin Atlantic’s recent transatlantic flight with an ethanol mixture shows the possibility of greener transportation. By the end of 2023, the IEA expects that almost one-third of global transportation will run on renewables.
While that might sound like a massive change, it’s hard to tell if it will be enough to satisfy the needs of a planet facing increasing warming. But it’s better than nothing.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics