The Climate and Environmental Impacts of Renewables

The Current Data and Historical Perspectives on Energy in 34 Charts

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May 16, 2014 | Breakthrough Staff,

To download a PDF of this collection of charts, click here.
 


There have been major investments, cost declines, and deployment increases with solar and wind:




Source: Jenkins et al, Breakthrough Institute, “Beyond Boom and Bust,” 2012 


Source: Sierra Club, 2012


Source: Sierra Club, 2012


 


But they still only provide a fraction of our energy.


 



Source: EIA and Breakthrough analysis



Source: EIA and Breakthrough analysis

 


However, coal has been declining.






 


Mostly from natural gas displacing coal.


 



Source: Breakthrough Institute, Coal Killer, 2013


 


Most renewables are not solar or wind.







 


EIA projects renewables increase of 4 percent total energy.







Source: EIA and Breakthrough analysis


 


Renewable future demands large increases in dams and biofuels: 50 Hoover Dam’s worth of new hydro capacity; 100 gigawatts of biopower, and bioenergy crops with a land footprint at least the size of Pennsylvania; 100-150 gigawatts of storage.





Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory 


 


While component costs of renewables have been declining, challenges stemming from intermittency, capital intensity, energy density, and integration drive renewables costs up with grid penetration.


 


Source: Clean Air Task Force
 


Generating significant electricity with renewables by 2030 or 2050 requires an unprecedented build-out of power capacity.


 


Source: EIA and Breakthrough analysis

 


Source: US Energy Information Administration; National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Breakthrough Institute analysis. NREL’s High-Demand scenario assumes 0.8% annual electricity demand growth. 1970-2010 average was 2.4%. 

 


Source: US Energy Information Administration; National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Breakthrough Institute analysis, 2014. This estimate assumes the Sierra Club aspirations of close to 100% renewables by 2030 utilizes a similar ratio of renewable energy technologies as does NREL RE Futures. If greater levels of intermittent solar and wind are used, even greater capacity will be required.
 


A renewables-heavy future requires doubling size of electric grid.


 



 


What would be the land impact of renewables?


 



Source: UK Government, Department of Energy and Climate Change, 2013


Source: Breakthrough analysis. Note: the all-renewables scenario above assumes a technology mix specified in Jacobson and Delucchi, 2011, scaled up to meet business-as-usual final energy demand projections for 2050. 


Note: all-renewables scenario above assumes technology mix specified in Jacobson and Delucchi, 2011, scaled to meet global energy demand in 2050 where all humans consume the per-capita equivalent of the average German in 2010.

 


Source: Breakthrough analysis


 


What would be fastest?


 


Source: Geoff Russell and Breakthrough analysis


 


Nuclear and natural gas have obviated 38 times more CO₂ than renewables since 1950.



 


Source: Source: US Energy Information Administration; Breakthrough Institute analysis, 2013


Source: Breakthrough analysis, 2013
 


Only one zero-carbon technology is proven able to scale rapidly:


 




Source: Breakthrough Analysis using BP Statistical Data, 2014

To download a PDF of this collection of charts, click here.


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