A historic new report from Energy Watch shows we can reach 100% renewable energy in just a few decades, and it’s affordable; making this the clear answer to tackling climate change
As thousands take to the streets, from Fridays for Future to Extinction Rebellion, the world’s commitment to tackling climate change has never been under such sharp focus. Nations have committed to prevent runaway climate change, in theory, but anxiety is clearly rising from citizens across the globe that time is running out.
With the call for ‘climate action’ louder than ever, why is it yet to get immediate mainstream political traction? There are no doubt many reasons, but one is simply this: it’s a matter of communications. The ask has been too big, too multifaceted and simply not positive nor concrete enough for everyone to rally around, and, yes, there’s been an absence of clear vision.
The Green New Deal movement in the US and UK has made some headway of late, laying out an economic framework for wide spread green infrastructure investment; but arguably it lacks boldness and clarity. Two ingredients required for a big vision to instigate big change. Indeed, the call we’re seeing from citizens is ‘system change not climate change.’
The need for total system change
image: IPCC / Jeremyleggett.net
The most significant and accepted system change required to limit emissions is the swift transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. But, until now, a path for action has never demonstrated how we can shift to 100% renewable energy and, indeed, the economic rationale for doing so. So, instead, the call for renewable energy has been ‘well, we could do 50%, maybe by this point; some of us can do more some less.’ Urgh.
Until now, the 100% RE commitment has been limited to predominantly swift acting corporates committing to procure 100% RE.Cities and states followed suit, notably in the US, but nations have held back from 100% domestic renewable energy commitments. What would a 100% renewable energy policy roadmap look like? It wasn’t entirely clear. But now it is thanks a new report from Energy Watch and Finland’s ULT University.
100% renewable energy: answering the call for (low cost) system change
This week things changed. Fundamentally changed. We have a clear picture of our alternative clean and energy system. Energy Watch has now shown that the world can run entirely on zero green house gas energy, from power, heat to transport and desalination, before 2050.
This is a historic, visionary report indeed. This 100% renewable energy system, modeled hourly, globally for the very first time shows how this can be done, and, at a lower cost than our current global energy supply. Yes, you heard right. We can shift to 100% renewable energy, and it’s going to cost us less than staying on fossil fuels. So, even if climate change wasn’t happening – we’d want to do it anyway.
The report explains that “with the scientific findings and elaborated set of policy measures of this study, we have developed a roadmap to achieve what our young generation calls for with great dedication and courage. This research does not only add one more study about climate-benign future energy systems, but rigorously opens up a new perspective towards a shift to 100% renewable energy within the next two to three decades. A full energy transition to 100% renewable energy is not only feasible, but also cheaper than the current global energy system… in addition a chance for all world regions to become energy independent and increase chances for peace and stability.”
Simply put, if the authors are right, a 100% renewable energy world is win-win-win-win and er, win. There is no argument remaining not to do it.
This is what our 100% renewable energy world looks like:
1. Electricity powers everything
More than 90% of our energy will come from electricity by 2050. Fossil fuels will be phased out completely with remaining fuels either electricity-based or biofuels. This energy will be produced locally and regionally, and overall is much more energy efficient as we’ll be consuming our power close to where its produced rather than it having to travel great distances to reach us.
Solar farms will provide a large percentage of our electricity, like this one in The Netherlands powering thousands of homes. Image: Solarcentury
2. Solar will provide the majority of our energy
Solar photovoltaics (PV) will provide nearly 70% of our electricity. But they’ll be a mix from wind energy (18%), biomass and waste (6%), hydro (3%) and geothermal energy (2%). Wind energy and solar PV make up 96% of total electricity, and approximately 88% of the total energy supply
3. Energy will be cheaper than it is today
Brilliantly, a 100% renewable energy system is substantially cheaper option than the one we have right now. This is a win-win for everyone as it has both economic and environmental benefits. The Middle East and North Africa will see the price of energy production drop by over 30%, North Amercia 22%, South America 34% and Europe 15% while achieving zero emissions from their energy production by 2050. What’s commonly known at the Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCE) decreases from around 78€/MWh in 2015 to around 53€/MWh by 2050.
4. Zero emissions from energy by 2050, or sooner
Energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions account for more than 60% of total global GHG emissions in 2015. In contrast to popular claims, a deep decarbonisation of the power and heat sectors is possible by 2030. The transport sector will lag behind, with a big decline of greenhouse gas emissions from 2030 to 2050. Annual global GHG emissions in the energy sector decline steadily through the transition from approximately 30 GtCO2eq in 2015 to zero by 2050.
5. Millions of local jobs will be created
Jobs will be created in every region in the world. Image: Mobisol.
This is where the story for 100% renewable energy continues to get better. In 2015, the global power sector employed around 20 million people, with more than 70% in the fossil fuel sector. A 100% renewable power system will employ 35 million people, with solar PV emerging as the major job creating industry, employing more than 22 million by 2050. The c. nine million jobs in the global coal industry in 2015 will be reduced to nearly zero by 2050 and will be overcompensated by more than 15 million new jobs in the renewable energy sector.
How can we make 100% renewable energy happen?
Hans-Josef Fell, Energy Watch said: ”We need to change the conversation: A transition to a global 100% renewable energy system is no longer a matter of technical feasibility or economic viability, but one of political will. Not only do we need ambitious targets, but also stable, long-term, and reliable policy frameworks, adapted to regional conditions and environments. We call on the global community to urgently pursue a forward-looking pathway towards net zero GHG emissions by launching a rapid change of the way we use natural resources and provide electricity, heat and transport.”
There appear to be five key things that must change:
- POLICY: This is the big one. Governments need to adopt national legislation that will ensure the swift uptake in the development of renewable energy, storage technologies, sector coupling, and smart energy systems.
- MONEY: This makes it all go round, right. So policy *_must *_encourage investment conditions for all, including businesses and communities.
- INCENTIVES & FEED-IN TARIFFS: Successfully in operation in many countries already, these should become standard. For example, Feed-in Tariff laws should be adopted to enable investments in small to medium sized developments and tendering procedures for large scale investors should be applied for utility-scale development. All barriers such as taxes should be removed.
- NO MORE FOSSIL FUEL SUBSIDIES: This is a no brainer. We have to stop funding the old system. A phase-out of all state subsidies to fossil fuel and nuclear energy generation is essential.
- COMMUNICATION & RESEARCH: Finally, it’s all about information. To shift our entire energy system we must promote research, education and information sharing on renewable energy. This seems more important than ever if change is going to occur.
So, watch this space and read more about the 100% renewable energy movement.
Charlotte Webster writes on environment, arts and technology and is founder of environmental art platform Human Nature and communications consultancy Good Shout Studio @Humannatureart.