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Renewable Energy Resource Assessment

  • Sven TeskeEmail author
  • Kriti Nagrath
  • Tom Morris
  • Kate Dooley
Open Access
Chapter

Abstract

Literature overview of published global and regional renewable energy potential estimates. This section provides definitions for different types of RE potentials and introduces a new category, the economic renewable energy potential in space constrained environments. The potential for utility scale solar and onshore wind in square kilometre and maximum possible installed capacity (in GW) are provided for 75 different regions. The results set the upper limits for the deployment of solar- and wind technologies for the development of the 2.0 °C and 1.5 °C energy pathways.

There is a wide range of estimates of global and regional renewable energy potentials in the literature, and all conclude that the total global technical renewable energy potential is substantially higher than the current global energy demand (IPCC/SRREN 2011). Furthermore, the IPCC has concluded that the global technical renewable energy potential will not limit continued renewable energy growth (IPCC/SRREN 2011). However, the technical potential is also much higher than the sustainable potential, which is limited by factors such as land availability and other resource constraints.

This chapter provides an overview of various estimates of global renewable energy (RE) potential. It also provides definitions of different types of RE potential and presents mapping results for the spatial RE resource analysis (see Sect. 1.3 in Chap.  3)—[R]E-SPACE. The [R]E-SPACE results provide the upper limit for the deployment of all solar and wind technologies used in the 2.0 °C and 1.5 °C Scenarios.

7.1 Global Renewable Energy Potentials

The International Panel on Climate Change—Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (IPCC-SRRN 2011) defines renewable energy (RE) as:

“ (…) any form of energy from solar, geophysical or biological sources that is replenished by natural processes at a rate that equals or exceeds its rate of use. Renewable energy is obtained from the continuing or repetitive flows of energy occurring in the natural environment and includes low-carbon technologies such as solar energy, hydropower, wind, tide and waves and ocean thermal energy, as well as renewable fuels such as biomass.”

Different types of renewable energy potentials have been identified by the German Advisory Council on Climate Change (WBGU)—World in Transition: Towards Sustainable Energy Systems, Chap.  3, page 44, published in 2003: (WBGU 2003) (Quote):

“Theoretical potential: The theoretical potential identifies the physical upper limit of the energy available from a certain source. For solar energy, for example, this would be the total solar radiation falling on a particular surface. This potential does therefore not take account of any restrictions on utilization, nor is the efficiency of the conversion technologies considered.

Conversion potential: The conversion potential is defined specifically for each technology and is derived from the theoretical potential and the annual efficiency of the respective conversion technology. The conversion potential is therefore not a strictly defined value, since the efficiency of a particular technology depends on technological progress.

Technological potential: The technological potential is derived from the conversion potential, taking account of additional restrictions regarding the area that is realistically available for energy generation. […] like the conversion potential, the technological potential of the different energy sources is therefore not a strictly defined value but depends on numerous boundary conditions and assumptions.

Economic potential: This potential identifies the proportion of the technological potential that can be utilized economically, based on economic boundary conditions at a certain time […].

Sustainable potential: This potential of an energy source covers all aspects of sustainability, which usually requires careful consideration and evaluation of different ecological and socio-economic aspects […].” (END Quote)

For the development of the 2.0 °C and 1.5 °C Scenarios, an additional renewable energy potential—the economic renewable energy potential in a space-constrained environment (Sect.  3.2 in Chap.  3)—has been analysed and utilized in this study.

The theoretical and technical potentials of renewable energy are significantly larger than the current global primary energy demand. The minimum technical potential of solar energy, shown in Table 7.1 (Turkenburg et al. 2012), could supply the global primary energy of 2015 112 times over.
Table 7.1

Theoretical and technical renewable energy potentials versus utilization in 2015

Renewable energy resource

Theoretical potential (Annual energy flux) [EJ/year] IPCC 2011

Technical potential [EJ/year] Global energy assessment 2012, Chap.  11, p. 774

Utilization in 2015 [EJ/year] IEA-WEO 2017

Solar energy

3,900,000

62,000–280,000

1.3

Wind energy

6000

1250–2250

1.9

Bioenergy

1548

160–270

51.5

Geothermal energy

1400

810–1545

2.4

Hydropower

147

50–60

13.2

Ocean energy

7400

3240–10,500

0.0018

Total

 

76,000–294,500

(Total primary energy demand 2015) 555 EJ/year

However, the technical potential is only a first indication of the extent to which the resource is available. There are many other limitations, which must be considered. One of the main constraints on deploying renewable energy technologies is the available space, especially in densely populated areas where there are competing claims on land use, such as agriculture and nature conservation, to name just two.

It is neither necessary nor desirable to exploit the entire technical potential. The implementation of renewable energy must respect sustainability criteria to achieve a sound future energy supply. Public acceptance is crucial, especially because the decentralised character of many renewable energy technologies will move systems closer to consumers. Without public acceptance, market expansion will be difficult or even impossible (Teske and Pregger 2015). The energy policy framework in a particular country or region will have a profound impact on the expansion of renewables, in terms of both the economic situation and the social acceptance of renewable energy projects.

7.1.1 Bioenergy

The discrepancy between the technical potential for bioenergy and the likely sustainable potential raises some issues that warrant further discussion. Recent analyses put the technical potential for primary bioenergy supply at 100–300 EJ/year. (GEA 2012; Smith et al. 2014). However, the dedicated use of land for bioenergy—whether through energy crops or the harvest of forest biomass—raises concerns over competition for land and the carbon neutrality of bioenergy (Field and Mach 2017; Searchinger et al. 2017). Research that focused on the trade-offs between bioenergy production, food security, and biodiversity found that less than 100 EJ /year. could be produced sustainably (Boysen et al. 2017; Heck et al. 2018), although such production levels would be dependent on strong global land governance systems (Creutzig 2017).

The carbon neutrality of bioenergy is based on the assumption that the CO2 released when bioenergy is combusted is then recaptured when the biomass stock regrows (EASAC 2017). Most land is part of the terrestrial carbon sink or is used for food production, so that harvesting for bioenergy will either deplete the existing carbon stock or displace food production (Searchinger et al. 2015, 2017). The use of harvested forest products (e.g., wood pellets) for bioenergy is not carbon neutral in the majority of circumstances because an increased harvesting in forests leads to a permanent increase in the atmospheric CO2 concentration (Sterman et al. 2018; Smyth et al. 2014; Ter Mikaelian et al. 2015). Leaving carbon stored in intact forests can represent a better climate mitigation strategy (DeCicco and Schlesinger 2018), because increased atmospheric concentrations of CO2 from the burning of bioenergy may worsen the irreversible impacts of climate change before the forests can grow back to compensate the increase (EASAC 2017; Booth 2018; Schlesinger 2018).

Bioenergy sourced from wastes and residues rather than harvested from dedicated land can be considered carbon neutral, because of the ‘carbon opportunity cost’ per hectare of land (i.e., bioenergy production reduces the carbon-carrying capacity of land) (Searchinger et al. 2017). The supply of waste and residues as a bioenergy source is always inherently limited (Miyake et al. 2012). Although in some cases, burning residues can still release more emissions into the atmosphere in the mid-term (20–40 years) than allowing them to decay (Booth 2018), there is general agreement that specific and limited waste materials from the forest industry (for example, black liquor or sawdust) can be used with beneficial climate effects (EASAC 2017). The use of secondary residues (cascade utilization) may reduce the logistical costs and trade-offs associated with waste use (Smith et al. 2014).

7.2 Economic Renewable Energy Potential in Space-Constrained Environments

Land is a scarce resource. The use of land for nature conservation, agricultural production, residential areas, and industry, as well as for infrastructure, such as roads and all aspects of human settlements, limits the amount of land available land for utility-scale solar and wind projects. Furthermore, solar and wind generation require favourable climatic conditions, so not all available areas are suitable for renewable power generation. To assess the renewable energy potential of the available area, all ten world regions defined in Table 8 in Sect. 1 of Chap.  5 were analysed with the [R]E-SPACE methodology described in Sect. 3 of Chap.  3.

Given the issues involved in dedicated land-use for bioenergy outlined above, we assume that bioenergy is sourced primarily from cascading residue use and wastes, and do not analyse the availability of land for dedicated bioenergy crops.

This analysis quantifies the available land area (in square kilometres) in all regions and sub-regions with a defined set of constraints.

7.2.1 Constrains for Utility-Scale Solar and Wind Power Plants

The following land-use areas were excluded from the deployment of utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power plants:
  • Residential and urban settlements;

  • Infrastructure for transport (e.g., rail, roads);

  • Industrial areas;

  • Intensive agricultural production land;

  • Nature conservation areas and national parks;

  • Wetlands and swamps;

  • Closed grasslands (a land-use type) (GLC 2000).

7.2.2 Mapping Solar and Wind Potential

After the spatial analysis, the remaining available land areas were analysed for their solar and wind resources. For concentrated solar power, a minimum solar radiation of 2000 kilowatt hours per square meter and year (kWh/m2 year) is assumed as the minimum deployment criterion, and onshore wind potentials under an average annual wind speed of 5 m/s have been omitted.

In the next step, the existing electricity infrastructure of power lines and power plants was mapped for all regions with WRI (2018) data. Figure 7.1 provides an example of the electricity infrastructure in Africa. These maps provide important insights into the current situation in the power sector, especially the availability of transmission grids. This is of particular interest for developing countries because it allows a comparison of the available land areas that have favourable solar and wind conditions with the infrastructure available to transport electricity to the demand centres. This assessment is less important for OECD regions because the energy infrastructure is usually already fairly evenly distributed across the country—except in some parts of Canada, the United States, and Australia. For some countries, coverage is not 100% complete due to a lack of public data sources. This is particularly true for renewable energy generation assets such as solar, wind, biomass, geothermal energy, and hydropower resources.
Fig. 7.1

Electricity infrastructure in Africa—power plants (over 1 MW) and high-voltage transmission lines

Figure 7.2 shows the solar potential for utility-scale solar power plants—both solar PV and concentrated solar power—in Africa. The scale from light yellow to dark red shows the solar radiation intensity: the darker the area, the better the solar resource. The green lines show existing transmission lines. All areas that are not yellow or red are unsuitable for utility-scale solar because there is conflicting land use and/or there are no suitable solar resources. Africa provides a very extreme example of very good solar resources far from existing infrastructure. While roof-top solar PV can be deployed virtually anywhere and only needs roof space on any sort of building, bulk power supply via solar—to produce synthetic and hydrogen fuels—requires a certain minimum of utility-scale solar applications. The vast solar potential in the north of Africa—as well as in the Middle East—has been earmarked for the production of synthetic and hydrogen fuels and for the export of renewable electricity (via sub-sea cable) to Europe in the long-term energy scenarios in the 2.0 °C and 1.5 °C Scenarios.
Fig. 7.2

Solar potential in Africa

Europe, in contrast, is densely populated and has fewer favourable utility-scale solar sites because of both its lower solar radiation and conflicting land-use patterns. Figure 7.3 shows Europe’s potential for utility-scale solar power plants. Only the yellow and red dots across Europe, most visible in the south of Spain, south of the Alps, south-west Italy, and the Asian part of Turkey, mark regions suitable for utility-scale solar, whereas roof-top solar can be deployed economically across Europe, including Scandinavia.
Fig. 7.3

Europe’s potential for utility-scale solar power plants

However, Africa and Europe are in a good position, from a technical point of view, to form an economic partnership for solar energy exchange.

The situation for onshore wind power differs from that for solar energy. The best potential is in areas that are more than 30° north and south of the equator, whereas the actual equatorial zone is less suitable for wind installation. North America has significant wind resources and the resource is still largely untapped, even though there is already a mature wind industry in Canada and the USA. Figure 7.4 shows the existing and potential wind power sites. While significant wind power installations are already in operation, mainly in the USA, there are still very large untapped resources across the entire north American continent, in Canada and the mid-west of the USA.
Fig. 7.4

OECD North America: existing and potential wind power sites

Unlike the situation in the USA, wind power in Latin America is still in its initial stages and the industry, which has great potential, is still in its infancy. Figure 7.5 shows the existing wind farm locations—marked with blue dots—and the potential wind farm sites, especially in coastal regions and the entire southern parts of Argentina and Chile.
Fig. 7.5

Latin America: potential and existing wind power sites

The available solar and wind potentials are distributed differently across all world regions. Whereas some regions have significantly more resources than others, all regions have enough potential to supply their demand with local solar and wind resources—together with other renewable energy resources, such as hydro-, bio-, and geothermal energies.

Table 7.2 provides an overview of the key results of the [R]E-SPACE analysis. The available areas (in square kilometres) are based on the space-constrained assumptions (see Sect. 2.1 in Chap.  7). The installed capacities are calculated based on the following space requirements (Table 7.2):
  • Solar photovoltaic: 1 MW = 0.04 km2

  • Concentrated solar power: 1 MW = 0.04 km2

  • Onshore wind: 1 MW = 0.2 km2

Table 7.2

[R]E-SPACE: key results part 1

Region

Subregion

Solar

Onshore wind

Potential availability for utility-scale installations

Space potential

Potential availability for utility-scale installations

Space potential

[km2]

[GW]

[km2]

[GW]

OECD North America

Canada East

2,742,668

68,567

2,530,232

12,651

Canada West

2,242,715

56,068

2,180,271

10,901

Mexico

3,365,974

84,149

3,341,940

16,710

USA – South East

269,650

6741

254,976

1275

USA – North East

1,043,033

26,076

1,043,026

5215

USA – South West

1,847,162

46,179

1,840,980

9205

USA – North West

431,277

10,782

427,709

2139

USA – Alaska

1,152,288

28,807

1,091,698

5458

Latin America

Caribbean

34,238

856

34,238

171

Central America

17,529

438

17,603

88

North Latin America

869,811

21,745

869,811

4349

Brazil

1,623,625

40,591

1,623,625

8118

Central South America

1,023,848

25,596

1,024,340

5122

Chile

693,990

17,350

693,990

3470

Argentina

1,651,168

41,279

1,651,168

8256

CSA – Uruguay

32,360

809

32,360

162

Europe

EU – Central

146,797

3670

146,797

734

EU – UK and Islands

22,406

560

22,406

112

EU – Iberian Peninsula

15,608

390

15,608

78

EU – Balkans + Greece

4825

121

4825

24

EU – Baltic

32,090

802

32,090

160

EU – Nordic

218,496

5462

218,496

1092

Turkey

134,354

3359

134,354

672

Middle East

East – Middle East

165,302

4133

5738

29

North – Middle East

91,970

2299

7123

36

Iraq

119,967

2999

9104

46

Iran

586,595

14,665

57,965

290

United Arab Emirates

530

13

530

3

Israel

386

10

217

1

Saudi Arabia

13,284

332

13,284

66

Africa

North – Africa

9,726,388

243,160

9,784,694

48,923

East – Africa

6,378,561

159,464

6,980,497

34,902

West – Africa

8,336,960

208,424

8,669,628

43,348

Central – Africa

7,229,129

180,728

7,509,351

37,547

Southern – Africa

3,269,644

81,741

3,547,591

17,738

Rep. South Africa

1,626,528

40,663

1,650,471

8252

Table 7.3

[R]E-SPACE: key results part 2

Region

Subregion

Solar

Onshore wind

Potential availability for utility-scale installations

Space potential

Potential availability for utility-scale installations

Space potential

[km2]

[GW]

[km2]

[GW]

Non-OECD Asia

Asia-West (Himalaya)

1,315,395

32,885

801,044

4005

South and South East Asia

9062

227

8184

41

Asia North West

184,503

4613

43,710

219

Asia Central North

138,861

3472

81,228

406

Philippines

2634

66

941

5

Indonesia

106,581

2665

12,162

61

Pacific Island States

5510

138

673

3

India

North – India

229,314

5733

163,118

816

East – India

32,511

813

5195

26

West – West

224,355

5609

121,441

607

South – Incl. Islands

129,346

3234

103,177

516

Northeast – India

77,379

1934

1821

9

China

East – China

47,621

1191

39,648

198

North – China

425,350

10,634

825,272

4126

Northeast – China

193,006

4825

192,110

961

Northwest – China

5,642,854

141,071

1,603,909

8020

Central – China

256,272

6407

211,229

1056

South – China

500,211

12,505

317,046

1585

Taiwan

5862

147

2791

14

Tibet

5460

137

377,610

1888

OECD Pacific

North Japan

8697

217

8213

41

South Japan

3567

89

3036

15

North Korea

10,724

268

9854

49

South Korea

2411

60

1892

9

North New Zealand

22,699

567

22,163

111

South New Zealand

25,106

628

46,266

231

Australia – South and East (NEM)

2,080,117

52,003

2,035,523

10,178

Australia – West and North (NT)

2,813,791

70,345

2,762,499

13,812

Note: Mapping Eurasia was not possible because the data files were incomplete.

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© The Author(s) 2019

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Authors and Affiliations

  • Sven Teske
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kriti Nagrath
    • 1
  • Tom Morris
    • 1
  • Kate Dooley
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for Sustainable FuturesUniversity of Technology SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Australian-German Climate and Energy College, University of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia

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