100% global renewable energy. A utopic dream or a future reality?
If we are to limit average global temperature rise to the maximum of 2℃ in the Paris Agreement, or 1.5℃ as many scientists argue, ensuring that everyone around the world receives energy produced from renewable sources is vital and will go a long way to keeping temperature rise as low as possible. Those on the political right that agree that climate change is a very urgent problem are often unwilling to actually do anything to make the changes necessary. Those on the political left generally argue that we absolutely have the capability to do something about the disaster we find ourselves quickly heading towards.
However, just a couple of days ago two European professors released a report looking into the feasibility of renewable energy supplying all energy by 2050 and found that making a 100% renewable energy future is a very real possibility.
Christian Breyer, professor of solar economy at Finland’s Lappeenranta University of Technology, and Claudia Kemfert, head of energy, transportation and environment at the German Institute of Economic Research, have developed a viable scenario that would transition global energy from being reliant on fossil fuels to renewable energy. This transition also includes an increase of jobs in energy, subsidies to renewable energy, and a zero-emissions future.
A renewable energy future is truly feasible and this is what it will look like.
The Growth of Solar
The scenario considered in this report estimates that 68% of the global energy demand will be generated by solar power with the rest coming from wind (18%), biomass and waste (6%), hydro (3%) geothermal (2%). Scenario predictions estimate that solar will have a total installed capacity of 34.8TW by 2050 across the globe with wind much further behind with 4.6TW of installed capacity.
One thing that has limited the growth of renewables within the global energy is the cost of the energy it produces compared to fossil fuels. With the help of subsidies, fossil fuels have always been relatively cheap for us to consume and they are still ensuring that today. However, the cost of renewable energy has been declining rapidly in recent years to the point where it is competitive with fossil fuels and it will continue to drop in cost in the near future.
Storage will help make all of this possible. In the same way solar is reducing in cost, so is battery storage and the technology is always improving to allow for greater storage capacity with increasingly smaller batteries. By 2030, 18% of power demand will be provided by storage capacity and will increase to approximately 23% by 2050.
As I said earlier, this isn’t just an environmentalist’s utopic dream. This entire scenario is economically feasible and will cost much less in the long run than continuing to prop up fossil fuels for years to come before making the changes we have to make anyway with declining oil reserves. Solar and wind are currently just as competitive as fossil fuel and will be considerably cheaper in the future.
Calculations to estimate the future costs of both fossil fuel and renewable energy discovered that renewable energy will actually reduce the levelised cost of energy by 1 Euro per megawatt hour (MWh) by 2050. Taking the levelised cost of electricity alone, a 100% renewable energy future would cost just €53/MWh by 2050 compared to the €78/MWh it cost back in 2015.
The growth of solar and other renewable forms of energy will also lead to a huge rise in the number of jobs. There will, of course, be jobs lost in the fossil fuel industry, however, in solar alone there will be around 22 million jobs around the world. Across the entire energy industry, there could be as many as 37 million jobs!
How do we get from Here to There?
The emergence of the school climate strikes in recent months, as well as a number of other high-profile climate strikes, shows that acting on climate change and the environment is something that people all over the world want and something that governments need to take stronger action on. This report shows that a renewable energy future is economically feasible for countries around the world, yet we are still so slow to respond.
One major block that is slowing the transition to a clean energy future is the lack of political will shown by many national governments to make the important changes necessary to avoid the worst impact of climate change. The UK is looking at fracking to secure its energy future, Australia is still finding ways to build coal mines and open up huge ecologically important regions to fossil fuel interests, and the environmental arm of the Trump Administration is infected with fossil fuel corporate interests looking to push fracking and go back to the days of coal mining.
In the report, the professors made a number of suggestions that would help achieve a 100% renewable energy future and make it happen by 2050. These included the removal of subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear (which the UK taxpayer contributes a huge amount to), maintaining incentives for small-scale renewable energy projects, and supporting green education as well as research and development of green technology. Essentially, divesting public and private money from fossil fuels to renewables will help make it all happen.
If the results of this report are correct then the idea of every country around the world being powered by renewable energy is no longer a dream of environmentalists. It also means that the development of a ‘Green New Deal’ for the USA and other countries around the world is not just ‘hippie leftists’ forcing their green ideologies on the masses. Despite what fossil fuel interests and their billions of dollars tell you, renewable energy is the future – not only for the sake of the environment but for global economies as well.
If you want to read the full report, click here