Could we live in an increasingly electric world, powered mostly by renewables?
The Paris Agreement has sent a signal, but could society do enough to achieve the goals of this landmark climate agreement?
Electricity is perhaps the form of “final energy” – the energy society uses to deliver a service – we are all are most familiar with. It powers homes and buildings and of course many of the devices we all use to communicate: from the satellites over our heads to the smart phones in our hands.
Today, electricity is becoming available to more and more people. Yet on average electricity makes up just 20% of “final energy”1 society uses in the current energy system.
Increasing its use will be important to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. This means that significant change is required to make electricity the major source of “final energy”1.
1 “Final energy” is the name given to the energy society uses to deliver a service. Examples include gasoline in the car delivering mobility or electricity delivering light in the home.
Electricity as a % of final energy use
Unlike many other forms of “final energy”, electricity has no carbon dioxide emissions at the point of use, when for example you turn on the light. However, emissions may occur at the point of generation in the power station, for example by burning coal, or not at all if the electricity is generated from, say, a wind turbine.
A key strategic direction for society to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to make more use of electricity and to generate it from wind and solar. This is the direction taken by the pathway in Shell’s latest energy scenario, Sky, which meets the goals of the Paris Agreement by bringing global emissions to net-zero by 2070.
To date, the rate of change of electricity in final energy has been relatively slow, increasing by just 2% points per decade since its widespread introduction in the early 20th century. In Sky, the rate of electrification triples through the 2020s, led initially by a rapid transition to electric vehicles, moving away from gasoline and diesel. In Sky, nearly 40% of road trips are in electric vehicles by 2040.
But the transition must extend further than the transport system, spreading into factories which use natural gas, diesel or coal in boilers and into homes for heating and cooking. In Sky, the gas burner for cooking in the kitchen vanishes almost completely in Europe and North America by the 2050s.
The second part of the challenge is to generate that electricity from sources that do not emit greenhouse gases. In Sky this is predominantly solar, although wind and nuclear both play important roles. In the process the global electricity system more than triples in size between 2015 and 2050 and keeps growing into the 2080s.
The Sky scenario is the most ambitious pathway Shell’s team could envisage. The revolution in electricity it illustrates is technically possible to achieve but will be very challenging.
So far, solar is keeping pace, but requires continued rapid growth over the coming decades. Yet despite solar’s rapid growth, renewables have yet to eclipse the year-on-year growth in overall electricity generation. In Sky, this doesn’t happen until the early 2040s.
There remains much to do for society to achieve its goals.
Read the Sky publication to see how the goals of the Paris Agreement could be met through a combination of technology, government policy and societal actions.
Could society achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement? What do you think? Share your thoughts on social media using #Shellscenarios
The Sky scenario illustrates a technically possible, but challenging pathway for society to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Discover the Sky scenario through our latest content series, twelve questions addressing key topics found within Sky.
For over two decades Shell scenario thinking has incorporated the issue of climate change. The Sky scenario joins two previous Shell scenarios, Mountains and Oceans that saw rapid decarbonization but fell short of the goals of the Paris Agreement. To achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, the Sky scenario relies on a complex combination of mutually reinforcing actions by society, markets and governments. It adopts an approach grounded in current economic and policy development mechanisms, but then progressively becomes ‘goal-driven’ to achieve society’s ambition for net-zero emissions by 2070. At Shell, we hope it’s a helpful contribution to one of the world’s toughest challenges. You can explore all three scenarios at www.shell.com/Scenarios