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[COPENHAGEN] Renewable energy could play a much larger role in supplying the world's energy needs than previously estimated — but it won't come cheap, according to a new study.

The research, presented at the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark, this week (11 March) says that renewable energy could supply 40 per cent of the world's energy needs by 2050.

The new estimate is considerably higher than previous projections, which put renewables' share at only 12 per cent by 2030, said Peter Lund, an author of the research from the Laboratory of Advanced Energy Systems at Finland's Helsinki University of Technology.

If renewable technologies were given the same government attention and financial backing as nuclear energy was in the 1970s and 80s wind energy and solar power would cost the same as traditional electricity generation by 2020–2025 and 2030 respectively, said Lund.

But such ambitious targets require substantial financial investment, Lund warned. The technologies would require global support of US$12.8 billion to US$25.5 billion per year and without this backing wind and solar energy would contribute less than 15 per cent of the world's energy output.

"What we need is a complete transformation in the way we produce, consume and distribute energy," Lund told SciDev.Net.

Erik Lundtang Petersen, head of the Risø STU National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy's wind energy division in Roskilde, Denmark, said that for the wind sector to deliver its full potential it must focus on efficiently delivering, installing and connecting large amounts of wind power to the grid.

But Joyashree Roy, an economics professor at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India, who has been involved in producing reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says that these targets are too ambitious.

She says that as the technologies are already available the key issue is deployment — which requires money. But investing in carbon capture and storage, nuclear technologies and biofuels is leaving less money for renewables — an issue that governments need to consider.

Link to other stories from the Copenhagen conference