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Professor Moomaw Presents Findings of Special IPCC Report

November 14, 2011


Prof. William Moomaw, below a photo of his zero net energy grid-connected home in Massachusetts.

As part of its mission, the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information in order to bridge the gap between the scientific community and policymakers. In its latest special report, the IPCC sought to explore what role renewable energy sources could have in climate change mitigation going forward, both in developing and developed countries.

The Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation, which is available online and is set to come out in print this
fall, involved 130 authors from around the world who reviewed the existing literature and conducted independent analysis. Professor William Moomaw, Director of CIERP and a Convening Lead Author of
the report, discussed the report’s findings during a lecture at the Fletcher School, explaining that renewable energy sources can play a considerable role in global efforts to combat climate change.

One of the first questions the IPCC working group sought to address was whether there is enough renewable energy available in the world to satisfy global demands. “The answer is overwhelmingly yes,” said Professor Moomaw, pointing to staggering statistics that emerged from their research. The sun and wind alone, for example, can respectively provide 8,000 and 12 times the amount of energy human beings actually need.

The report reviewed 164 global scenarios to determine whether renewable energy sources could actually deliver the necessary amounts of low carbon energy services. It found a range of penetration of 100-400 EJ/year by 2050, a considerable jump from 2008’s 64 EJ/year. “Most scenarios actually show a greater penetration for renewable energy than for nuclear or carbon capture and storage,” explained Professor Moomaw, adding that there are no real technical or economic barriers to a major shift to renewable energy. These future prospects are further supported by recent developments: the deployment of renewable energy has been increasing rapidly in recent years, due to government policies, declining cost of many technologies, changes in the prices of fossil fuels, and an increase in energy demand.

During his presentation, which was attended by over 60 students, staff, faculty and community-members, Professor Moomaw also addressed an important issue in the study of energy: the lack of an unambiguous, universally accepted accounting method for calculating primary energy from non-combustible energy sources. He urged against simply using the widely adopted physical content method, which measures how much energy comes out of burning a specific amount of coal, or other combustible. “The problem is that you cannot compare across types of energy sources using just energy created, we need to put them all on the same basis.” The direct equivalent method helps address this discrepancy by looking at the electricity output of a certain source of energy. “This is the first report where this distinction was made really explicit, and I’m very proud of that.”

Professor Moomaw drew distinctions among the various kinds of renewable energy sources by exploring which ones could truly be characterized as renewable, sustainable, low-carbon and economically viable. The report, he explained, also included a section discussing synergies between renewable energy and energy efficiency, touching on the rebound effect component brought up by many economists.

In discussing the report’s findings, Professor Moomaw took the audience through the experience of writing such a detailed, comprehensive and collaborative report, discussing the various rigorous steps the authors had to go through in order to guarantee precision and accuracy. He explained how the first draft of the chapter he was responsible for was peer-reviewed by thousands of experts, and that his team of six had to respond to every single one. With a touch of pride, he added that four Fletcher graduate students were helpful in assisting his team with getting through the myriad of information.

Professor Moomaw’s presentation was part of the Energy and Climate Policy Research Seminar Series, convened by Professor Kelly Sims Gallagher and sponsored by the Energy, Climate, and Innovation Program at CIERP. The lecture series aims to present innovative research currently in progress on critical issues in the field to the CIERP community.

View Professor Moomaw's presentation slides here.

-Elia Boggia, MALD candidate F13