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Wind Energy Could Generate Nearly 20 Percent of World's Electricity by 2030

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Wind Energy Could Generate Nearly 20 Percent of World's Electricity by 2030

Wind power has a pivotal role to play in the world's energy supply over the next few years. By providing huge amounts of clean, affordable power, it can buy us time in the fight against global warming while revolutions in energy efficiency and solar power gain momentum.

Wind power could be supplying up to 19 percent of the world's electricity and avoiding over three billion tonnes of CO2 a year by 2030. By 2050, 25-30 percent of global power could come from harnessing the wind. Photo credit: Karuna Ang / Greenpeace

Greenpeace and the Global Wind Energy Council have just released a two-yearly status report on wind energy and its prospects up to 2050.

In as little as five years' time wind power could prevent more than a billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from being emitted each year by dirty energy. That's equivalent to Germany's and Italy's emissions combined, or Africa's total CO2 emissions, or those of Japan, or two-thirds of what India pumps out.

Ten years after that, wind power could be supplying up to 19 percent of the world's electricity and avoiding more than three billion tons of CO2 a year. By 2050, 25-30 percent of global power could come from harnessing the wind.

The wind industry has grown at around 26 percent per year over the past 18 years. Europe and China have been solid wind markets for over a decade.

Now the U.S. is on the way to gaining a 20 percent share of the world market. In the coming five years, the rapidly developing economies of Brazil, South Africa and India are likely to be among the next to reap the benefits of wind power.

The main reason for this is that wind power has become the least-cost option for adding new power capacity to the grid in an increasing number of markets. Prices are continuing to fall and smart investors are seizing on the potential. During each of the past four years, an average of €50 billion went into new wind power equipment. This could increase to €104 billion by 2020 and €141 billion by 2030, according to the status report.

There is also good news for jobs. Around 600,000 people currently work in the wind power industry. That figure could rise to around 1.5 million by 2020 and exceed 2 million jobs by 2030.

But what also makes wind power attractive is its 'scalability' and the speed that power can be brought on line. That's particularly important where people have no access to electricity. Contrast that with huge and highly controversial coal-fired or nuclear power plants that involve years of debate and construction.

(By the way, forget the claim by sceptics that more energy is used in manufacturing wind turbines than they supply. A wind turbine 'pays back' all of the carbon dioxide emissions from its manufacturing, installation, servicing and decommissioning in its first three to nine months of operation. That means pollution-free power for the rest of its 20-year design lifetime).

Why all this is important is because the power sector pumps out more than 40 percent of all CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Wind power is an ideal technology to achieve early reductions in carbon pollution and to keep the window open to avoid global warming crossing the 2°C 'danger' threshold. But time is short for meeting climate protection targets and ensuring that global emissions peak and decline during this decade.

Capturing all of the future opportunities for wind power will once again depend on convincing recalcitrant policymakers and overcoming the vested interests of the fossil fuel lobby.

Sven Teske is a senior energy expert with Greenpeace International. Since 2005 he has been the project leader for the global energy scenario Energy [R]evolution: A Sustainable World Energy Outlook.

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An illustration depicts the extinct woolly rhino. Heinrich Harder / Wikimedia Commons

The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.

The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.

"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."

The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.

The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.

The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.

To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.

Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.

"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.

"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."

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For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.

"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."

To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.

"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."

So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.

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