Report of the Club of Rome 2018, Chapter 3.4: “Decentralized Energy”

Original author: Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Anders Wijkman
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3.4. Decentralized energy

Emory Lovins and his team at the Rocky Mountain Institute in Reinventing Fire developed a great vision: “Imagine fuel without fear. Without climate change. No oil spills, dead miners, dirty air, devastated land, lost wildlife. There is no energy poverty. No wars, tyranny or terrorists over fuel. Nothing to end. Nothing to cut. Nothing to worry about. Just energy abundance, benign and affordable, for all, forever. "

Well, it's a wonderful dreamy language for innovators like Emory Lovins. Of course, the absence of climate change is unlikely to become a reality in the near future. Wildlife lost is also a euphemism: many of the current trends associated with the expansion of renewable energy sources absorb large amounts of land that could otherwise be left to wildlife. And the term energy abundance sounds like a call for wasteful use - contrary to the idea of ​​the book. However, the value of Reinventing Fire lies not in its minor linguistic exaggerations, but in its significant correctness.

At the time of writing, 6 years ago, very few people foresaw the profound changes that would soon occur in the energy industry. Now they are on everyone's mind. Entire countries are experiencing significant changes, mainly towards a more sustainable energy future, which in a general sense is moving according to Emory Lovins' vision. Classic centralized power systems are under severe stress from competing renewable energy sources. The energy industry is currently undergoing significant changes, and most of them are moving towards a more sustainable future.

Denmark and Germany were trendsetters. Denmark in 1985 passed a law prohibiting the installation of atomic energy companies instead contributing to the development of wind energy. This happened a year before the Chernobyl nuclear disaster! Germany began to talk about the phasing out of nuclear energy immediately after Chernobyl and adopted a law on the gradual cessation of the use of nuclear energy in 1999. Almost at the same time, Germany introduced a generous law on electricity tariffs (FIT) for renewable energy sources, which led to tremendous breakthroughs in this area. After the Fukushima nuclear tragedy, Germany accelerated a phase-out, making rapid progress in the field of renewable energy.

China (and about 60 other countries) more or less copied FIT schemes in Germany, which led to the rapid development of technical innovations and economies of scale. Figure 3.5 shows how solar photovoltaic (PV) prices have fallen, and the cost of nuclear energy has increased dramatically. Since 2010, there have been no economic arguments for investing in nuclear power.

Globally, renewable energy is increasing dramatically. Chile has recently produced so much solar energy that energy companies provided for free. Germany pledged to be 100% renewable by 2050, Scotland by 2020. According to the Asia and Europe Clean Energy Generation Directive (AECEA), China installed 34.2 GW of solar energy only in 2016.

Some analysts predicted a turning point by 2014, when renewable energy began what is now increasingly seen as the inevitable triumph of the wind and sun. In April 2015, Michael Libreich from Bloomberg New Energy announced: "Fossil fuels just lost the race with renewable energy sources ... The world is now putting more effort into developing renewable energy sources every year than in the extraction of coal, natural gas and oil."

The decline in coal demand is clearly illustrated in the stock market. In fig. 3.6 shows the performance of the stock market average US stocks (Dow Jones) compared with the stocks of coal energy companies.

In the end, it is clear that the world economy, instead of being supplied with fossil and nuclear fuel, will be based on renewable energy sources.

Historical crossover - solar photovoltaic costs decrease as new nuclear costs increase.


Comparison of the cost of solar batteries per kilowatt-hour

Figure 3.5. Solar photovoltaic radiation exceeds nuclear costs (Source: NC WARN)

Coal reserves are falling.
Indices (recalculated)


Figure 3.6. Over 5 years, coal reserves have lost most of their value, while the Dow Jones index rose> 40% (Source: TruValue Labs, June 29, 2016)

The most important problem of the future of the planet is the time required for this transition to be fully implemented. Depletion of minerals and uranium / thorium resources is not the main reason. The problem lies in the political, environmental and technological costs of not being able to respond to global warming and to increasing the costs of the entire nuclear cycle.

It sounds as if the transition to the world of renewable energy sources is not only necessary, but also inevitable in the near future. However, leaving large reserves of fossil fuels in the ground, we get a natural result. We will have “discarded carbon assets”, which means that former economic assets will become useless or even become an obstacle and a hindrance. A recent study estimates that these “discarded assets” amount to about 6 trillion. US dollars, suggesting that only 20% of identified fossil fuel reserves could be burned by 2050. " Other guesses even reach $ 20 trillion, due to the limitation of carbon dioxide emissions, designed to limit warming to 2 ° C. These “discarded assets” can be viewed as part of the cost of switching to a gradual abandonment of fossil fuels.

A somewhat parallel consideration relates to the phase-out of nuclear energy. Here it is politically more difficult, because several countries have been breaking a synergistic economy between military and civilian nuclear power for decades, in other words, tacitly subsidizing civilian nuclear power.

Given the problem of multi-profile assets, it is interesting to know how quickly the world can achieve a transition to an economy based only on renewable energy resources. This question was recently studied by Mark Z. Jacobsen and his colleagues at Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley. They argue that by 2050, the world can achieve a complete failure of the world from fossil fuels. In fig. 3.7 shows how their research achieves a transition from the domination of fossil fuels to the fully energetic world of WWS (water, wind and solar energy).

In relation to this figure, several observations should be made. First, when switching to renewable energy around the world, it should be borne in mind that the percentage ratio of solar energy and wind power varies considerably from country to country. Secondly, notice in Figure 3.7 that the final power consumption in 2050 is slightly lower than in 2012. However, this load is much less than the end-use capacity that would be required in a standard business scenario without switching to WWS. This means that the authors hope for significant potential for efficiency gains. Thirdly, on the contrary, it should be recognized that the WWS scenario requires much more than just solar panels, wind parks, etc.

It is also necessary to handle and finance the management of peak consumption and power surges, but both are solvable and do not require large expenditures compared with the side effects of fossil fuels.

Let's turn to the political side for a moment. In principle, two steps are needed to accelerate the transition from an economy based on fossil fuels to an economy that uses renewable energy:

1. All financial incentives for the fossil fuel industry (both private and public) should be eliminated. A recent IMF document38 estimates these so-called subsidy subsidies on a global scale for the fossil fuel industry to be in the range of about $ 600 billion a year.

2Introduce an internationally agreed carbon tax that will be at the national level (see Section 3.7.3). For most developing countries, these trends towards growing reliance on renewable energy will be a blessing. Decentralized use of energy is technically feasible and can significantly help create jobs where they are most needed in rural areas of developing countries.


Figure 3.7 Aggregate changes in end-user energy demand for all purposes and its supply with conventional fuels and WWS generators over time (Source: see Jacobson et al., Footnote 6)

In the long term, the current electricity company and coal and oil companies will either join the transition to renewable energy or will be out of work. In early 2016, consulting company Deloitte predicted that more than 35% of independent oil companies would go bankrupt, and another 30% in 2017. They come on the heels of 50 North American extractors who went bankrupt at the end of 2015. Of course, some new oil prices and the alleged protectionism of fossil fuels in the Trump presidency may change the picture, at least temporarily. The crisis of unused assets can actually be considered the strongest motive for Donald Trump to abandon the ridiculous preference for fossil fuels.

China's largest energy user is becoming a global renewable energy source. He increased solar power production 20 times in just 4 years, China switched from a power of 0.3 GW in 2009 to 13 GW by 2013, adding 30.5 GW of renewable energy in 2015, 16.5 GW of which belong solar energy. China still burns a lot of coal, but its Green Horizons program has pledged to clear the air in its cities and reduce carbon intensity by 40–45% compared to 2005 over the next 5 years. In 2016, the total registered CO2 emissions were reduced by 5%, despite an increase in economic growth of 7%. And by 2050, China intends to get 80% of its energy demand from renewable energy sources.

China announced that it intends to become an “Ecological civilization,” a concept that it wrote into its 2012 constitution. China’s 13th Five-Year Plan (Section 3.16.1) impressively reflects this new mood.

A good side effect is that the global transition to renewable energy sources - and, in fact, energy efficiency - is accompanied by an increase in jobs. The International Renewable Energy Agency, IRENA, recently noted that renewable jobs are growing at a rate of 5% per year, and now exceed eight million jobs worldwide. These jobs are mainly allocated to production and, as a rule, provide higher gender parity.

There are estimates that the entire transition can go even faster. Stanford professor Tony Seba predicts that by 2030, the whole world will use renewable energy sources - not only electricity, but all forms of energy. The book of Self "Pure Breakthrough", explains why he believes that the transformation will happen so quickly. It credits four factors: the fall in the cost of solar energy, the fall in the cost of storage (batteries), electric cars and cars with full automated control. Considering the fact that vehicles are responsible for 30% of carbon emissions, the displacement of vehicles based on gasoline will be as big a breakthrough as the depreciation of coal.

Seba uses an analogy with how experts completely underestimated sales of mobile phones. In the 1990s, McKinsey told AT & T that he could only expect 900,000 mobile phone users, but the real figure was above 108 million. Seba asks: "Do not believe in the" Clean Breakthrough "? IEA wants you to invest 40 trillion dollars in conventional energy (nuclear, oil, gas, coal) and in ordinary utilities. This is their Kodak moment. This is your money.

Businessman Ilon Musk created a car company with a market capitalization and more than half of General Motors, despite the fact that he sold 300 times less cars? How is this possible? Due to the fact that Tesla, as its master plan Part Deux, released in July 2016, gives a clear idea of ​​how to integrate a solar panel on the roof with a home battery and electric vehicles. Tesla is a truly rechargeable company, and if the costs of batteries are reduced, which they do, then the game is really over for minerals. By integrating energy production with storage and transportation, Tesla can eliminate almost any rationale for digging and using ancient sunlight as fuel in dirty and dangerous ways and politically destabilize it.

To be continued ...

For the translation, thanks to Diana Sheremieva. If you are interested, I invite you to join the "flashmob" to translate a 220-page report. Write in a personal or email

More translations of the report of the Club of Rome 2018


Chapter 1.1.1 “Various types of crises and feelings of helplessness”
Chapter 1.1.2: “Financing”
Chapter 1.1.3: “An Empty World Against Full Peace”

Chapter 3.1: “Regenerative Economy”
Chapter 3.3: “Blue Economy”
Chapter 3.10: “ Tax on bits ”
Chapter 3.11:“ Financial Sector Reforms ”
Chapter 3.12:“ Economic System Reforms ”
Chapter 3.13:“ Philanthropy, Investment, Crowdsourse and Blockchain ”
Chapter 3.14:“ Not a Single GDP ... ”
Chapter 3.15:“ Collective Leadership ”
Chapter 3.16: “Global Government”
Chapter 3.17: “Actions at the National Level: China and Bhutan”
Chapter 3.18: “Gra motivation for the future "


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