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New Energy Solutions to Limit Global Warming to 1.5°C

Transforming the energy system will be crucial as unabated fossil fuels are currently responsible for over 80% of primary energy demand

Limiting global warming to 1.5°C – compared to 2°C – will reduce the severity of climate change impacts on our natural and human systems. Human activities have already caused global warming of around 1.0°C and we’re likely to reach 1.5°C around 2040 at the current rate of increase.[i]

While a 1.5°C world is still possible, we need to urgently and radically transform all systems at an unprecedented scale. Transforming the energy system will be crucial as unabated fossil fuels are currently responsible for over 80% of primary energy demand. We must move swiftly toward an increase in zero-carbon energy sources across all sectors.

As global temperature increase is linked to cumulative net CO2 emissions, it’s imperative that emissions remain within the carbon budget of 580 GtCO2 for a 50% probability of limiting warming to 1.5°C. This means that, in parallel to aiming for net-zero emissions as early as possible in the second half of the century, we need to also achieve emissions reductions in the near-term to limit cumulative emissions.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s (WBCSD) newest project, New Energy Solutions, is helping companies make significant headway today with proven technologies and low-carbon fuels. By facilitating cross-sectoral collaboration, the New Energy Solutions project aims to scale up pre-commercial and/or proven low-carbon technologies that are being deployed too slowly across the power, transport, industry and buildings sectors.

At the UNFCCC’s COP24 in Poland, project members released “New Energy Solutions for 1.5°C - Pathways and technologies to achieve the Paris Agreement” – presenting collective viewpoints on the energy transition across four key sectors: power, transport, industry and buildings.

According to the report:

The primary levers to decarbonizing the power sector are expanding zero-carbon generation and phasing out unabated fossil fuel-based generation. Scaling up renewable-based electricity (RE) is crucial, especially increasing generation from solar and wind technologies. In addition to RE, some countries may opt for nuclear power or carbon capture and storage or use in their energy transition. This transformation of the power sector will also contribute substantially to the decarbonization of transport, buildings and industry as energy end uses become increasingly electrified.

Alongside changing the power generation mix, we need to accelerate the evolution of electricity grids and markets. In particular, digitalization of the power sector, including deployment of smart grid technologies, will improve supply and demand side efficiency and be crucial to network management and monitoring.

At the same time, power systems will need greater flexibility to integrate increasing shares of variable RE. Traditional forms of flexibility such as thermal generation and hydropower are increasingly complemented by, for example, utility scale batteries for short-term storage. Smart grid technologies also enable the provision of flexibility services to the grid from distributed energy resources (DERs). Examples of DERs include behind-the-meter battery storage, distributed renewable generation and electric technologies – particularly in the passenger transport and buildings sectors – which can provide demand response, and thermal or electric storage. Virtual power plants (VPPs), which aggregate DERs, will be important to facilitating participation in electricity and balancing markets.

Energy efficiency improvements will be essential to reducing CO2 emissions in all energy-demand sectors – transport, buildings and industry. It is a particularly important near-term action in energy uses where fuels and technologies for full decarbonization are not yet commercially available. These include aviation, shipping, trucking, and medium- to high-temperature heat in industry. For electric technologies, improvements in energy efficiency are important to reduce emissions from a gradually decarbonizing power sector. 

Electrification will play an important role in decarbonizing transport. The two main elements of this decarbonization pathway in passenger mobility are the increasing deployment of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and maximizing use of electrified mass transit systems. Technologies for the latter are likely to include both battery and fuel cell electric buses and the electrification of rail.

In addition to efficiency improvements, switching to lower-carbon fuels is a key short-term option to reduce emissions from aviation, road freight and shipping. Opportunities include biofuels in aviation and road freight, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) or shore-to-ship power for shipping.

In the long-term, all buildings must be net-zero emissions; the technologies we need to achieve this goal are available today. We need to decarbonize space and water heating, which are currently responsible for three-quarters of direct CO2 emissions from the sector, via electric or renewable technologies such as heat pumps or solar thermal heating. In addition to technology choices, the energy required for space heating and cooling is strongly influenced by the performance of the building envelope. The key challenge to decarbonizing the sector is accelerating the renovation rate of existing buildings and ensuring that all new buildings or products are highly efficient.

Technologies available today can go some way towardutili decarbonizing industry. These include electrification via the integration of heat pumps for low-temperature heat and solar heat for industrial processes using low- to medium-temperature heat. In addition, energy-efficiency measures and a transition to more circular business models reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

WBCSD’s New Energy Solutions project aims to accelerate deployment of this next wave of low-carbon technology solutions. The project takes a cross-sectoral approach including energy users from all business sectors, energy providers including utilities and oil and gas, as well as engineering, business and financial knowledge providers.

Project members are currently analyzing business cases for existing low-carbon energy solutions. Once published, these business cases will help energy users conduct rapid assessments of technology options and will highlight the cross-sectoral partnerships that are needed to succeed.

 Altogether, this work will be embedded in guidelines for energy users on how to develop a low-carbon energy strategy that considers all energy end uses in a holistic manner and identifies combined, circular solutions.

[i] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2018). Global Warming of 1.5°C: Summary for Policymakers.

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