January 21, 2019 | Putting a stop to global warming

DLR energy and mobility scenarios show how global climate targets can be achieved

  • The German Aerospace Center (DLR), in collaboration with Australian partners, has investigated what is needed to maintain global warming to below two degrees Celsius.
  • Two scenarios set out development pathways for technology, infrastructure and energy consumption up until 2050 to achieve the global target of the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015.
  • Both scenarios assume that there will be a massive expansion of renewable energies, considerable improvements in efficiency, and more electricity and synthetic fuels used in the heating and mobility sectors.
  • Focus: energy, transport, climate change, energy systems analysis

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) has been working with the University of Technology Sydney and the University of Melbourne on behalf of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation to determine the necessary developments to achieve the aim of keeping global warming well below 2°C. This target is in line with the international agreements made at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015. At the heart of the study are two scenarios that set out development pathways for technology, infrastructure and energy consumption up until 2050 to 2050 to limit global warming to 2.0 and 1.5 degrees Celsius, respectively.

"Achieving this target requires fundamental changes to energy consumption and supply. In both scenarios, we assume that there will be a massive expansion of renewable energies, considerable improvements in efficiency, and more electricity and synthetic fuels used in the heating and mobility sectors," says DLR researcher Thomas Pregger. As part of the study, the Energy Systems Analysis department at the DLR Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics modelled the entire energy systems of 10 regions of the world.

The study is based on the technologies available today. In line with the objective, options with major uncertainties in terms of social, economic or environmental consequences, such as nuclear power, geoengineering or carbon capture and storage (CCS) were not considered.

The energy sector: reducing consumption, efficiency measures, renewable resources

With regard to the energy sector, both scenarios assume that consumption in developed countries can be reduced by over 40 percent by 2050, thus bucking the global trend, while consumption in developing countries can be limited over the long term. Alongside numerous technological and structural improvements, both scenarios also call for changes in consumer behaviour and investment strategies. The rapid implementation of efficiency measures is key, mainly due to the current use of fossil fuels. This is the only way of meeting the carbon dioxide emissions budgets set out in the study (for the 2015–2050 period), which specify a maximum of 590 gigatonnes (2 degrees Celsius) or 450 gigatonnes (1.5 degrees Celsius).

Wind and solar energy make a significant contribution towards energy supply in both scenarios. This also applies to the use of biomass for combined heat and power and biofuels, as well as for district heating that harnesses solar, geothermal and environmental heat potential. The type of renewable energy used depends on the regional conditions and potential.

Over the 2015–2050 period, investment in power generation will total approximately 50,000 billion US$, around 30,000 billion US$ more than a conventional reference scenario. This figure incorporates higher power plant outputs to meet the additional electricity demand resulting from the electrification of the heating and transport sectors, as well as the creation of synthetic fuels using electricity. As fewer fossil fuels are required, around 90 percent of the additional investment costs can be offset by lower fuel costs. These figures do not include infrastructure needs for grid expansion, storage and other flexibility measures.

The mobility sector: electrification, traffic reallocation, alternative fuels

"To achieve the 1.5 and 2.0 degrees Celsius scenarios, swift electrification is especially needed in ground-based passenger and freight transport. Linked to this is the massive expansion of battery production, and beyond that the creation of production and distribution facilities for electricity-based liquid and gaseous fuels. Other key measures examined in the study include shifting road and air transport to rail systems as much as possible and limiting the growth of passenger and freight transport in developed countries," says Johannes Pagenkopf, a scientist working in the Vehicle Systems and Technology Assessment department at the DLR Institute of Vehicle Concepts, which developed a detailed model of future mobility and the resulting energy demand for the study.

Both scenarios assume that in 2050 around 60 percent of all buses and heavy goods vehicles will be powered by batteries, while about 20 percent will use fuel cells. The engines of the remaining buses and trucks will be powered by synthetic or biogenic fuels. As far as cars are concerned, the study assumes that in 2050 around nine out of 10 road vehicles will be powered by electricity or hydrogen. Compared with the 2°C scenario, the 1.5°C scenario requires earlier and faster electrification, particularly in industrial countries. Over the long term, synthetic fuels will play an important role in achieving carbon neutrality under both scenarios, especially in air and maritime transport.

Demonstrating possible options and pathways for decision-makers in government and society

Scenarios are not forecasts, but rather tools that describe a conceivable future. Decision-makers in government and society can use them to gain a comprehensive overview of possible development paths, alternative options and their impacts. Defining the political and social framework conditions both nationally and globally is one of the key challenges for achieving successful climate protection.

"In developing these two scenarios, it became clear that we are really running out of time," says Sven Teske of Sydney University of Technology, who had overall responsibility for the study. "The 1.5-degree scenario in particular requires renewable forms of energy to be expanded as quickly as possible, without further delay, and fossil fuels must be largely replaced. Every year in which there are no significant reductions to the global level of emissions drastically reduces the chance of curbing global warming," continues Teske.

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Denise Nüssle

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Pfaffenwaldring 38-40, 70569 Stuttgart
Tel: +49 711 6862-8086

Johannes Pagenkopf

Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR)
Institut für Fahrzeugkonzepte, Abteilung Fahrzeugsysteme und Technologiebewertung
Rutherfordstraße 2, 12489 Berlin-Adlershof

Dr.-Ing Thomas Pregger

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
DLR Institute of Technical Thermodynamics
Linder Höhe, 51147 Köln

Dr. Sven Teske

University of Technology Sydney Institute for Sustainable Futures