The Energy [R]evolution

Feature story - June 8, 2010
The Energy [R]evolution demonstrates how the world can get from where we are now, to where we need to be in terms of phasing out fossil fuels, cutting CO2 while ensuring energy security. This includes illustrating how the world’s carbon emissions from the energy and transport sectors alone can peak by 2015 and be cut by over 80 percent by 2050. This phase-out of fossil fuels offers substantial other benefits such as independence from world market fossil fuel prices as well as the creation of millions of new green jobs.

Energy [r]evolution report

A blueprint for a global renewable energy future

Energy revolution cover

The Energy [R]evolution Scenario provides a practical blueprint for the world's renewable energy future, and was developed in conjunction with specialists from the Institute of Technical Thermodynamics at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and more than 30 scientists and engineers from universities, institutes and the renewable energy industry around the world.

will we look into the eyes of our children and confess that we had the opportunity, but lacked the courage? that we had the technology, but lacked the vision?

Will we look into the eyes of our children and confess that we had the opportunity, but lacked the courage? that we had the technology, but lacked the vision?

The Energy [R]evolution Scenario only uses proven technologies and is based on five key principles:

1. Equity and fairness

2. Respect natural limits

3. Phase out dirty, unsustainable energy

4. Implement renewable solutions and decentralise energy systems

5. Decouple growth from fossil fuel use

The Energy [R]evolution:the global context

The Energy [R]evolution scenario creates greater equity in the use of resources whilst providing a secure and affordable energy supply and maintaining steady global economic development. The report takes into account rapid economic growth areas such as China, India, Brazil and Africa.

The implementation of efficiency standards is an example of how this can be achieved. By decreasing the per capita energy use in industrialised countries and slowing down the increase of energy demand in developing countries, energy consumption can be 'shared' in a more balanced way. However, by 2020 the per capita energy use in the USA, Europe or Australia is still higher than in China or India. Therefore OECD countries have to reduce their CO2 emissions earlier than other developing economies, peaking no later than 2015.

Total global emissions need to return to current levels by 2020. For this to be achieved, industrialised economies such as the USA, the European Community and Australia have to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30 percent below 1990 levels.


figure 1: CO2 emissions per capita

Developing countries like China and India need to peak CO2 emissions by 2025 and start reducing emissions towards 2030 and beyond while providing a secure and affordable energy supply and, critically, maintaining steady worldwide economic development. The Energy [R]evolution provides clear pathways as to how to achieve those reductions.

The long-term goal for the Energy [R]evolution is to create energy equity via renewable energy. Cutting CO2 emissions does not mean cutting economic growth.

New Zealand

The New Zealand Government is struggling to understand this new global reality. It is unveiling a new era of coal mining and oil drilling that is a reversion to 19th century economic thinking and one that does not account for the climate crisis.  If the Government continues on its current path New Zeaalnd's businesses and economy will miss out and be left behind by this global green economic revolution, to the detriment of all New Zealanders.

New Zealand is already perfectly positioned to join the new, green economic revolution.  The world wants to engage with what we have - an international clean and green reputation, an abundance of renewable energy resources and technologies, and renowned bright minds. Greenpeace has developed a vision for the future that creates jobs and deals with the climate crisis.

Working for the climate

The Energy [R]evolution is also creating a green jobs revolution.

  • By 2015 the global power supply sector under the Energy [R]evolution scenario could create up to 12.5 million jobs. That is 4.5 million more than if business continues as usual.
  • By 2020 over 8 million jobs in the renewables sector would be created due a much faster uptake of renewables, four-times more than today.
  • By 2030 the Energy [R]evolution scenario will create about 12 million jobs, that is 8.5 million in the renewables sector alone. Without this fast growth in the renewable sector global power jobs will be a mere 2.4 million. By implementing the Energy [R]evolution, there will be 3.2 million or over 33 percent more jobs by 2030 in the global power supply sector.


figure 2: global employment

By 2020, two thirds of direct employment in the Energy [R]evolution scenario comes from renewable energy, even though renewables account for only 38 percent of electricity generation. This relationship between electricity output and jobs illustrates that the renewables sector has greater "labour intensity" - or more people per unit of power produced. Investing in renewable power saves fuel costs which means it can invest in workers.

Shifting the CO2 trend


figure 3: global development of CO2 emissions OTHER ASIA by sector under the two scenarios


Global CO2 emissions under the Energy [R]evolution scenario will peak in 2015 and drop afterwards. Compared with today CO2 emissions will be more than 80 percent lower by 2050 when the energy supply is based almost entirely on renewable energies. While global emissions fall regional shares shift. OECD countries reduce their emissions faster which see their share of the global output drop from just over 50 percent today to 38 percent in 2020. This is achieved by implementing renewable energy and energy efficiency standards.

Smart power


One of the key ways the world can fight climate change is by becoming more energy efficient. Efficiency measures also reduce energy costs to consumers. If we do nothing global energy consumption is expected to increase by 20 percent by 2020 and up to 60percent by 2050. However if we implement the Energy [R]evolution scenario, energy efficiency measures allow us to decrease energy consumption within the next 10 years in industrialised countries by 20 percent, while allowing for developing countries to increase their energy consumption by 20 percent.

On a global scale the Energy [R]evolution can save about 70 Exa-Joule compared to business as usual - this is enough to satisfy Europe's current entire energy demand.

Measures such as:

  • improved insulation and design of our homes and offices
  • implementation of super efficient home and office appliances via strict mandatory efficiency standards
  • replacement of electrical heaters and conventional hot water systems with renewable heat production (such as solar collectors)

These offer some of the simplest, easiest, most cost effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Using and producing smart energy

Business as usual in the way we consume and produce energy is simply not an option any more. Besides catastrophic climate change due to rising CO2 emissions, our resources are limited. Fossil fuel prices are increasing and consumers around theworld are confronted with unaffordable energy bills. In order to achieve a peak in emissions by 2015 and bring emissions down afterwards, we need to implement proven technologies in renewable energy and in efficiency now.

The Energy [R]evolution uses a three step approach:

Step 1:Electrical efficiency

  • Exploit all technical potential for electrical efficiency via technical standards

Step 2: Structural changes

  • Change the way we produce energy in large centralised powerstations towards a decentralised energy system using large-scalerenewable resources which use locally available energy sourcessuch as wind, sun or geothermal
  • Cogeneration - end the huge amounts of waste energy via cooling towers

Step 3:Energy efficient transport

  • Build up efficient public transport systems
  • Implement efficient cars, trucks, etc.


Figure 6: a decentralised energy future

Scenario principles in a nutshell:

•Smart consumption, generation and distribution

•Energy production moves closer to the consumer

•Maximum use of locally available, environmentally friendly fuels

Renewable electricity generation


figure 7: global electricity generation today and in 2020 under the energy [r]evolution scenario

The Energy [R]evolution scenario demonstrates how by 2020 an impressive 38% of our electricity needs can be met by renewable energy. Established technologies such as wind and solar take the early lead, but rapidly emerging technologies such as concentrating solar thermal, geothermal and ocean energy, all contribute to our 2020 energy mix.

Keeping energy affordable

If we carry on, business as usual, electricity supply costs will nearly double by 2020. Unchecked growth in energy demand, increases in fossil fuel prices and the cost of CO2 emissions result in total electricity supply costs rising from today's US$1,450 billion per year to more than US$2,800 billion in 2020, and US$5,300 billion by 2050.

By moving away from fossil fuels and reducing carbon emissions, the Energy [R]evolution scenario stabilises energy costs for consumers. Between 2015 and 2020, most renewable energy sources become cheaper than coal.

The Energy [R]evolution Scenario not only complies with global CO2 reduction targets, it also helps to stabilise energy costs and relieve the economic pressure on society. Increasing energy efficiency and shifting energy supply to renewables leads to long term costs for electricity generation that are one third lower than if we continue in our current trends. It becomes clear that pursuing stringent environmental targets in the energy sector also pays off financially.

Renewable energy = energy security

Nature offers a variety of freely available options for producing energy. Their exploitation is mainly a question of how to convert sunlight, wind, biomass or water into electricity, heat or poweras efficiently, sustainably and cost-effectively as possible.

On average, the energy in the sunshine that reaches the earth is about one kilowatt per square metre worldwide. According to the Research Association for Solar Power, power is gushing from renewable energy sources at a rate of 2,850 times more energy than is needed in the world.

In one day alone the sunlight which reaches the earth produces enough energy to satisfy the world's current power requirements for eight years. Even though only a percentage of that potential is technically accessible, this is still enough to provide around six times more power than the world currently requires.

table 2:technical potential by renewable energy technology for 2050 vs world primary energy demand 2007 WORLD ENERGY DEMAND 2007: 502.9 EJ/Aa

Renewables: no emissions, no fuel costs, no problem

Because renewable energy has no fuel costs, the total financial savings until 2030 outlined in the Energy [R]evolution reach a total of US$6.5 trillion, or $282 billion per year. A comparison between the extra fuel costs associated with business as usual and the extra investment costs of the Energy [R]evolution shows that the average annual additional fuel costs of the former are higher than the additional investment requirements of the Energy [R]evolution.

figure 10:investment shares - reference versus advanced energy [r]evolution

The average annual investment in the power sector under the Energy [R]evolution Scenario between 2007 and 2030 would be approximately US$782 billion. This is equal to the current amount of subsidies paid for fossil fuels globally in under three years.

These renewable energy sources will produce electricity without any further fuel costs beyond 2030, while the costs for coal and gas will continue to be a burden on national economies. The Energy[R]evolution pays for the environment, the climate and the economy.

Quitting coal

The single biggest contributor to global greenhouse emissions is burning coal. The Energy [R]evolution shows that by greatly increasing the amount of renewable energy in our system, using gasas a transitional fuel and introducing assertive energy efficiency measures, we can start removing coal fired power from the grid, shutting them down at the end of their working life. From 2020 onwards, the coal electricity share starts to decrease. By 2020, 30 pecent of the currently operating coal power plants in industrialised countries are retired and replaced by a mix of renewable, co-generation and energy efficiency.

Phasing out nuclear power

Nuclear energy is a relatively minor industry with major problems. It covers just one sixteenth of the world's primary energy consumption, a share set to decline over the coming decades. The average age of operating commercial nuclear reactors is 23 years, so more power stations are being shut down than started up. In 2008, world nuclear production fell by 2 percent compared to 2006,and the number of operating reactors as of January 2010 was 436, eight less than at the historical peak of 2002.

In terms of new power stations, the amount of nuclear capacity added annually between 2000 and 2009 was on average 2,500 MWe. This was six times less than wind power (14,500 MWe per annum between 2000 and 2009). In 2009, 37,466 MW of new wind power capacity was added globally to the grid, compared to only 1,068 MW of nuclear. This new wind capacity will generate as much electricity as 12 nuclear reactors; the last time the nuclear industry managed to add this amount of new capacity in a single year was in 1988.

Despite the rhetoric of a 'nuclear renaissance', the industry is struggling with a massive increase in costs and construction delays as well as safety and security problems linked to reactor operation, radioactive waste and nuclear proliferation.

The dangers of nuclear power

Although the generation of electricity through nuclear power produces much less carbon dioxide than fossil fuels, there are multiple threats to people and the environment from its operations.

The main risks are:

  • Nuclear proliferation
  • Nuclear waste
  • Safety risks

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