Taken as a whole, energy sources with low or no carbon emissions could easily cover the global energy supply in 2050, according to a new report from Denmark's Risø National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy. The challenge for a sustainable global energy system with low carbon emissions will be to use this potential in the energy system the best way possible seen from an economic point of view.
Risø Energy Report 9 lists a wide range of energy technologies in the market with low or no emissions of greenhouse gases, describing how several of these will be made commercially available in the next decades.
However, it is not possible to make the world's energy supply CO2-free as cheaply as possible, using only technology development in the current energy systems. There must be room for technological leaps and there is a need for an integrated process to optimise the entire energy system, from energy production, through transformation into energy carriers, to energy transportation and distribution and efficient end use.
There is also a need for a smart grid, connecting production and end use at local level. End users should contribute to maintain balance in the future energy system and new technologies should be introduced to the end users, including houses with low and flexible consumption, smart electronic equipment, heat pumps, energy storage and local energy supplies such as solar cells and micro CHP. Information and communication technology (ICT) will determine how successful the integration of renewables into the grid actually will be.
Considering the security of supply in the short and long term, there is still a need for access to fossil fuels, but they must be continuously replaced with renewable energy sources. If we do not make efforts to promote renewable energy sources, coal and gas might easily be prevailing in the global energy supply for the rest of this century. For many countries, however, it could be advantageous to switch to renewable energy sources in order to reduce dependence on imported oil and gas. In addition, this transition can help the countries achieve their environmental policy goals.
Seen in isolation, Denmark has a great chance for achieving these goals and for phasing out fossil fuels at a rapid pace and thus reduce emissions of greenhouse gases at the required pace.
Danish wind and biomass resources in particular will make it possible to phase out fossil fuels in connection with power generation and heat production before 2040. It will take further 10 years to eliminate fossil fuels within the transport sector.
A future smart energy system requires that we start investments now. If we do not make these investments, future generations will look back on this period wondering how we could be satisfied with an outdated energy system, without taking advantage of the opportunities which we already were aware of.
The Risø Energy Reports series is available at: http://www.risoe.dtu.dk/Knowledge_base/publications/Risoe_Energy_Report_series.aspx?sc_lang=en
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