Renewables scorecard released in advance of Rio summit


The United States has more than quadrupled its use of renewable energy over the past decade, but it still trails clean energy’s penetration in much of the world. That’s one of the highlights of a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The NRDC held a conference call on June 11 to release the report in advance of a global summit in Rio de Janeiro next week, and to prod world leaders to double their previous commitments to clean emery deployment over the remainder of the decade.

The U.S. is still far behind Europe and Indonesia and is only slightly ahead of Mexico in the percentage of electricity it gets from renewable sources, according to the report from the NRDC.

Favorable governmental policies and strong private-sector investments have helped to increase the availability of renewable energy in the United States and elsewhere, according to Jake Schmidt, NRDC’s international climate policy director.

Renewable energy is expected to be a major issue at the June 20-22 Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil.

This is the twentieth anniversary of the first Rio summit on sustainable development, held in 1992. A meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002 was also held. “Renewables was a top part of the discussion. While countries couldn’t agree on a global commitment, it was a central part of the discussion,” Schmidt said.

“These forces were barely a blip on the global economy,” Schmidt said. “Since that time frame we’ve seen important progress in scaling up these resources.”

“There is a diverse range of activity and this report highlights a lot of the different set of countries,” said Dan Kammen, Professor of Energy, University of California, Berkeley and a report author.

Diverse policy tools are being used, with mixed results. Renewable portfolio standards are the usual means in the U.S., while Europe has vaulted into global leadership with feed-in tariffs. Carbon pricing is on the table in Europe, South Korea, Australia and even some Chinese provinces.

“The good news these policies are being more widely used, but the challenge is moving them along much more quickly,” Kammen said.

“While global renewable energy investment was $160 bn last year, annual global subsidies for fossil fuels are estimated at $400 $500 bn,” he said.

The NRDC goal is to get countries to double their previous renewable energy goals, to obtain 15% of electricity from wind, solar, geothermal and wave and tidal sources by 2020. Projections now global energy commitments put the level at one-half of that.

European countries, led by Germany, get more of their electricity from wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources than any other region in the world, NRDC’s global renewable energy scorecard shows. The United States got about 2.7% of its electricity from renewables in 2011, making it No. 7 among G-20 member countries.

Already some smaller, non-G-20 countries such as Spain, New Zealand and Iceland get more than 15% of their energy from renewable sources.