Editorial: Renewable energy aspiration realities

The Tesla factor is fuelling international focus on electricity’s potential for shifting global transportation away from reliance on fossil fuels. But electricity remains a bit player in the real world of renewables and their current and future role in displacing oil and gas as the main engine of people and goods movement.

Migrating transportation to energy sources other than fossil fuels is critical to reducing the contribution to climate change from man-made global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

Growth in the use of wind and solar photovoltaics in electricity generation, especially in China, provides some optimism for slowing global emissions of carbon and other GHGs.

But electricity, as the International Energy Agency (IEA) notes, accounts for only one-fifth of global energy consumption.

Heating (52%) and transportation (28%) are the main energy consumers. The IEA’s Renewables 2018 report predicts that, over the next five years, bioenergy will account for 30% of the growth in renewable energy consumption and will become the leading renewable energy producer.

The good news for the renewable energy sector is that the IEA sees the contribution of renewable technologies to meeting global energy demand increasing by one-fifth over the next five years. However, even with that growth, renewables will still account for only 12.4% of the energy pie. Fossil fuels will continue to be the world’s energy workhorse.

The Tesla effect should not be underestimated. It is rapidly changing the way consumers view options for private automobile investment and use.

But Elon Musk’s ambitious automotive initiative remains far more a long-shot challenger than a legitimate contender in the world’s transportation power rankings.

Continued development of fossil fuel alternatives should gradually help wean the world from oil and gas dependence; however, there are still no legitimate replacements, be they solar, wind, electricity or bioenergy, with the properties needed to displace fossil fuels from their predominance atop the heating and transportation power pyramid.