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Renewables not growing fast enough to wean us off fossil fuels

Renewables and nuclear will be the fastest growing energy sources by 2040 according to the latest projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).  Renewables are expected to grow by 2.6 percent per year and nuclear by 2.3 percent; with the highest growth rates in developing, non-OECD states.

Unfortunately, almost all of this additional energy capacity is expected to be accounted for by additional economic growth, so that by 2040 we will remain highly dependent upon fossil fuels:

“Even though non-fossil fuels are expected to grow faster than fossil fuels (petroleum and other liquid fuels, natural gas, and coal), fossil fuels still account for more than three-quarters of world energy consumption through 2040.

“Natural gas, which has a lower carbon intensity than coal and petroleum, is the fastest-growing fossil fuel in the outlook, with global natural gas consumption increasing by 1.9% per year. Rising supplies of tight gas, shale gas and coalbed methane contribute to the increasing consumption of natural gas.”

The EIA report gives credence to those of us who argue that continued consumption-based economic growth is totally incompatible with efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.  Even the switch from petroleum to natural gas – which proponents like the UK government claim is ‘cleaner’ – will not allow us to carry on with business as usual because of the significantly lower energy density of gas.  Put simply, we cannot run an oil-based economy without using oil.  If we want to shift to renewables (and possibly nuclear) we need a serious discussion about the kind of economy we can have as a result.

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