Electricity from solar, wind, and water could power the entire world in less than 10 years, leading energy experts say. Renewable energy could also be the sole energy source for the world’s heating, cooling, transport, and industries by 2035.
The 100 per cent electrification of society with renewable energy would eliminate air pollution, which kills one in five people every year, and largely solve the climate crisis.
A global energy system powered by 100 per cent renewable energy (100 per cent RE) is not only possible but also has the potential to “save money, create jobs and wealth, save lives, and get humanity ahead of the curve to prevent runaway climate change,” said Tony Seba, CEO of think tank RethinkX, and one of the authors of a declaration by the Global 100% RE Strategy Group.
The planet’s average temperature has been rising over the last 12,000 years, research now shows. And it even may be at its warmest for 125,000 years due to human-released greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution. Humanity is in “completely uncharted territory,” said climate scientist Samantha Bova, at Rutgers University.
Credit: Westend61. Getty Images.
The 100% RE Strategy Group’s 10 point declaration summarizes hundreds of studies that show 100 per cent RE is technically and economically possible and could happen quickly with the right policies. Amongst the more than 40 signatories to the declaration are well-known climate scientists are Michael Mann of Penn State University and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Founder and Director Emeritus of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.
“Solar is by far the cheapest source of energy,” Seba said in a press conference. Renewables with batteries and other forms of energy storage are the key to new societal prosperity and achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. “Build enough capacity and electric vehicles could be powered for free,” he said.
Studies show that creating the new 100% RE system will stimulate investments of trillions of dollars and create millions more jobs than lost worldwide says Brian Vad Mathiesen, Professor in Energy Planning and Renewable Energy Systems at Aalborg University.
IT’S NOT POSSIBLE UNTIL WE BELIEVE IT IS
Most people won’t believe 100 per cent renewable energy is possible, said Hans-Josef Fell, a former German member of parliament and President of the Energy Watch Group. Fell encountered the same skepticism when trying to get Germany to adopt renewables in the 1990s. Today renewables, including biogas, provide 46 per cent of the country’s electricity.
“When enough people believe it can happen, then it happens,” Fell said.
Credit: Michael Hall. Getty Images.
11 COUNTRIES POWERED BY 100 PER CENT RENEWABLES
Eleven countries such as Costa Rica and Iceland already generate nearly 100 per cent of their electricity using green energy sources like wind, solar, hydro, or geothermal. Twelve countries have also passed laws to reach 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2030.
While Australia doesn’t have a 100 per cent law, clean, low cost solar and wind is rapidly replacing it’s dirty coal power. By 2025 Australia will generate 50 per cent of its electricity using renewables said Andrew Blakers, a Professor of Engineering at the Australian National University. The State of South Australia already banks on solar and wind for 70 per cent of its electricity and uses pumped hydro and batteries for power storage. Balancing the power load when wind isn’t blowing or when the sun isn’t shining has “been far easier than expected” Blakers said.
CARS REPLACED HORSES IN LESS 15 YEARS
The potential for rapid transformation of the world’s energy system has a parallel in the speed with which cars replaced horses in the 1900s. “It happened in only 10 to 15 years in spite of the many hurdles,” Fuad Hasanov, an economist with International Monetary Fund, told National Geographic.
In 1910 there were few paved roads in the US, and the biggest worry in cities was what to do with all the horse manure that was piling up. Gasoline was hard to find; today’s massive infrastructure of refineries and gas stations was just beginning to be built. The cost of one of Henry Ford’s new Model T’s was close to US $ 140,000 in terms of today’s affordability.
And yet by 1921, the price had dropped to the equivalent of $35,000, governments and the oil industry had spent massively on roads and other infrastructure, and sales of Model T’s shot up to a million a year. By 1925 they were nearing two million a year.
Energy economist Mark Jaccard at Simon Fraser University agrees 100 per cent renewables by 2030 might be technically possible but doesn’t think it’s feasible given the costs. “The first thing that happens as renewables ramp up is fossil fuels get cheaper,” Jaccard told The Weather Network. An electric heat pump is expensive to buy and even with low cost renewable energy, people will stick with natural gas to heat their homes because it’s cheaper.
However, government policies such as a price on carbon and regulations have the potential to drive the transformation of the energy system, he said.
Climate scientist Michael Mann says the 100 per cent renewable goal is “deservedly aspirational,” but it is also “quite possibly realizable given the political will and appropriate policy incentives”. However, as Mann points out in his new book, The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet, fossil fuel interests, in partnership with conservative media, will push misinformation “designed to undermine public support for renewable energy”.
Mann documents a number of manufactured anti-renewable myths such as wind turbine sickness syndrome, exploding electric vehicle batteries, toxic solar panels, and others.
“A renewable energy transition would create millions of new jobs, stabilize energy prices in the absence of fuel costs, reduce power disruption, and increase access to energy by decentralizing power generation, ” he concludes.
Thumbnail credit: Westend61. Getty Images.