DOE Predicts CO2 Emissions AND Renewables Increase by 2050

Table: U.S. Department of Energy – Energy Information Administration

The Energy Department put out its 2019 International Energy Outlook and two big headlines emerged — first that CO2 emissions worldwide will increase by 20% overall through 2050 because of emissions from developing countries, and second that renewable sources will provide half of all electricity globally by midcentury.

Why This Matters:  Looking at the details, CO2 emissions from developed nations remain roughly steady, decreasing by only -.2% annually for the next 30 years, while in developing countries CO2 emissions are expected to grow 1% a year.  Countries outside the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are growing in key respects — they collectively have more population, a larger gross domestic product, more energy consumption, and because of the type of energy used, higher energy-related CO2 emissions.  In addition, they estimate that renewables share of electricity consumption will rise from 28% in 2018 to 49% worldwide in 2050, with most of the growth in solar.  But this does not appear to factor in major changes in policy such as carbon pricing and other incentives to reduce CO2 and increase the share of renewables providing electricity.

Renewable Growth Largest in Solar

The Energy Department predicts that China will see the most growth in solar power because of its growing demand for electricity, favorable government policies, and competitive technology costs.  They also expect that growth in solar generation will also be strong in IndiaEuropean countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the United States.  They believe solar will grow faster than wind power because “solar resources are also generally more abundant than wind resources and typically follow very predictable daily and seasonal generation patterns plus the fact that it is relatively simple to construct solar arrays using photovoltaics, the most common solar generation technology.  And wind power has more growth potential than hydroelectric power — many wind resource areas around the world are not yet developed.

CO2 Growth 

The carbon dioxide increases will occur in the developing world unless we change the fuel mix quickly.  Relatively developed economies collectively have no emissions growth, so all of the future growth in energy-related CO2 emissions is among the group of countries outside the OECD — and the growth in emissions is spread among coal, liquid petroleum, and natural gas — with natural gas emissions increasing the most.

“As non-OECD countries continue to grow, so does their demand for air conditioning, electronics, personal vehicles, and other energy services. These countries also have relatively energy-intensive industries, primarily because energy-intensive industrial processes often shift to non-OECD countries. Energy consumption in non-OECD countries increases by 1.6% per year from 2018 to 2050, and energy-related CO2 emissions increase by 1.0% per year.”

The Energy Department predicts under the current “reference case” outlook, that coal-related CO2 emissions in China will grow at the slowest rate as natural gas replaces coal in power generation and in industrial applications. However, unless they make drastic changes, China, which currently emits the most energy-related CO2 in the world, will continue to lead in emissions through 2050.

Table: U.S. Department of Energy – Energy Information Administration

To Go Deeper:  Read the full 2019 Outlook Report here.

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