Liberal Party MP Craig Kelly – the climate science denier recently named as head of the Coalition’s environment and energy committee – has been getting a lot of publicity of late over his attack on subsidies for solar energy.
His critique of solar is taken straight from the Coalition play-book, inspired by the climate “contrarian” Bjorn Lomborg. It holds that no matter how much you invest in solar and wind energy, it ain’t going to make a lot of difference over the long term because the technologies don’t work, and won’t contribute much.
Kelly even quotes from the International Energy Agency – as Lomborg does – painting what he describes as the IEA’s “most optimistic forecast” as having a very small role for wind and solar.
“The hard cold reality is that even under the IEA’s most optimistic scenario in 25 years’ time, and allowing for a “massive” growth in Solar PV, it will only contribute a peripheral 0.7% of the global energy supply – and will be getting MORE energy from fossil fuels than we are today,” Kelly writes on his Facebook page.
Lomborg wrote something similar last year, and we took issue with Lomborg at the time, and we quoted the senior IEA official rubbishing those claims. Now, we take issue with Kelly for repeating them, because they are false.
The scenario Kelly describes as the IEA’s “most optimistic” forecast is not optimistic at all.
It is the one where the world continues as is and heats the planet by 3°C or more. It’s the so called “New Policies” scenario, where pre-Paris policies are put in place but not enough to meet the subsequent Paris climate deal of capping global warming at well below 2°C.
It’s a scenario based for everyone who thinks CO2 is good for plants and bad for no one. People like Kelly. And it is not very optimistic.
To find the IEA’s more optimistic scenario, the one where the world does act on its Paris agreement, does not take much effort.
Assuming Kelly was doing his own research and not cutting and pasting from one of Lomborg’s articles, as he has done previously here and here, he could have flicked a few pages from the IEA’s World Energy Review and found these tables, 8.2 and 9.3.
The key here is that under the 450 scenario, the minimum needed to meet the Paris target, the IEA predicts that solar and wind will be providing a lot more of the world’s electricity needs than coal. By 2040 it will be the biggest single source of electricity. That does not make it a “peripheral” energy supply.
Let’s start with Table 8.2 above. It shows that in IEA’s most optimistic scenario, that “other renewables” account for 10,980 Terawatt hours of electricity by 2040. That is more than coal, gas and oil put together.
To find out what “other renewables” are, we go to the Table 9.3 below.
This table shows that wind will provide 5,101 TWh and solar (PV and concentrating solar power) provide a combined 3,169 TWh. Go back to Table 8.2 and you see that the IEA is predicting coal to generate 4,107 TWh.
So, in its most optimistic scenario – and remember the IEA is actually pretty conservative and has a history of downplaying wind and solar – the agency believes that wind energy will be producing more electricity than coal, and that solar will not be far behind.
Lomborg and Kelly’s tactic is to try and bury solar and PV in “total energy demand”, which includes oil and gas for road transport, shipping transport, air transport, heating for buildings, residential cooking and heating, and gas and other energy for manufacturing use.
Then they take a scenario that they pretend is the most optimistic, when even the IEA admits it would destroy the world’s environment.
The IEA says in its scenario planning “the share of electricity in final energy consumption has doubled since the 1970s and continues to grow in the New Policies Scenario, going from 18% in 2013 to 24% in 2040. That’s how you get a small number for wind and solar.
“The reality is that those that bury their head in sand to these numbers, and continue to “believe” that the Solar PV will replace fossil fuels “soon” are the best friends the fossil fuel lobby has,” Kelly writes on his Facebook page.
No, the reality is that the people that bury their head in sand to these numbers, and continue to “believe” that fossil fuels won’t be replaced, are actually the best friends the fossil fuel lobby has.
Kelly should check his numbers, and prime minister Malcolm (I will not lead a party that does not take climate change seriously) Turnbull should have a think about the people he is appointing to senior environment and energy positions in his government.