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Dousing the Warming World for a Safe and Habitable Planet

The summer this year saw temperatures soaring to record levels across Europe with many places in France recording temperatures exceeding 45°C.  More than 1500 people were reported to have died due to the unprecedented heat wave.  In Germany, it was reported that demand for electric fans soured and shops in many towns ran out of stock. In India, the oppressive summer temperatures across the country have been worsening with 50°C summer peaks no longer making to the front page. Grimly, the last four years have seen the warmest summers in the recorded history.  Very recently India witnessed a record 3 weeks delay in the withdrawal of the summer “Monsoon” rains. Clearly these and other rising extreme climate incidents are stamping out any remaining misgivings on human induced anthropogenic climate change.

With rapid industrialization, the global annual emission which was just 1.5 Giga tons (GT) at the turn of the 19th century started rising more particularly post the 2nd World War. In the past two decades the rise has been alarming touching 32 GT in 2015 and 37 GT in 2018.   

Fig 1. Annual Global Green House Gas emissions in Giga Tons
Source: Global Carbon Project

 

With the rise in the heat GHG trapping gases, the average global temperature has been steadily rising. Taking the mean surface air temperature for the period 1951-1980 as the base temperature which is 14°C (57°F), it was  found that the average temperature has risen by 0.8°C since 1880 (see graph below) with two-thirds of the warming occurring since 1975.

Figure 2.  Global Average Temperature since 1880
Source: NASA

 

With unabated rise in carbon emission, the world will only see a further warming world and its attendant climate effects.  Based on the detailed impact analysis done, a 2°C rise in temperature was seen to be the maximum warming that we could allow ourselves, to be able to just manage the climate related damages.  Any further rise would mean irreversible and catastrophic changes that can potentially lead to mass extinction.  A further study showed that a 2°C rise would pose far greater and unmanageable risk than a 1.5°C rise, some of which are listed below:  

  • Higher risks of droughts, precipitation & tropical  cyclones
  • Mean sea level rises up by an additional 0.1 m, drowning more cities (including New York)
  • Rise in Ice-free Arctic summer  from once per century to once per decade
  • Drastic reduction in crop yield especially in tropical countries.
  • Higher risk of irreversible loss of many marine and coastal ecosystems leading to drastic reduction in sea food availability.
  • Increase in invasive species and far greater impact on human health
  • Increased ocean acidity and decreased in ocean oxygen levels

It is estimated that to have a 67% of chance of containing the global warming to 1.5oC we have a carbon budget of 350GT which at our current rate of emission will be exhausted in less than 10 years.  To decarbonize the global economy, urgent accelerated RE transition is called for. Comfortingly the RE equipment prices, particularly those of solar have been falling drastically and the percentage of RE capacity addition has been rising.  The global RE capacity in 2018 stood at 2352 GW, a third of the total global capacity.

In the past five years the investments in RE exceeded those in Non-RE and the yearly capacity addition exceeded 50%. Many countries are already generating significant amount of power from RE: Germany 40%; Spain 38%; UK 33%; India 22%. With policies introduced to accelerate the energy transition, it is projected that we can generated as much as 86% of energy from RE by 2050 and energy related emissions could be cut down by 75%.

Figure 3. RE Capacity Additions 
Source: BNEF

 

The simultaneous, sharp fall in battery prices over the past decade is also helping in making the infirm RE based generation more resilient and more importantly enabling transition in the mobility sector, the other giant guzzler of fossil fuels.  In 2018 alone 2mn electric vehicles were produced and it is expected that by 2030, under accelerated market scenario, EV sales is expected to reach 43 million and the total number of vehicles on the road to reach 250 million. This excludes electric two and three wheelers. RE based charging will ensure that we are weaned further away from oil.  

Integration of millions of RE generators, EVS in addition to the existing ones; dynamic pricing, multiple operators and regulators will render the grid to be one of the most complex systems ever.  The recent developments in digital and information technologies like the Big Data, Block Chain, Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence are smartly enabling the transition.

Investments required to bring the energy transition with 86% energy generation from RE by 2050 has been estimated to be 95 trillion USD by IRENA.  This investment is projected to boost the global economy by 2.5% with the associated benefits of huge reduction in health and energy subsidies, larger social benefit providing universal access to electricity and increased employment opportunities. On a conservative estimate, IRENA has projected 14mn RE Jobs worldwide by 2050.   

With India committed to the Energy and Mobility transitions and having already established itself as one of the top solar and wind markets in the world, the contribution of India in containing global warming is immense and so are the opportunities in the coming decades for all stakeholders.  

Dousing the warming world, expeditiously, will ensure that the generations to come will inherit a habitable, safe and secure planet where life will continue to bloom in all its glory.   

 

In this year’s Executive Panel discussion scheduled on 27th November experts from across the value chain would discuss on “India’s Renewable Energy Future” and in the exclusive program arranged for the student’s called the “Study Program”, four young and successful entrepreneurs will share their entrepreneurial journey.