Any person who is a fan of renewable energy has dreams of a future where there’s no need for fossil fuels at all.
There’ll be a set of solar panels on each roof, wind turbines turning lazily off shore, hydro plants making the most of our powerful tides and no sign of a gas pipe or diesel car in sight.
But is 100% renewables possible worldwide?
In order for that to happen, we would have to get rid of fossil fuels. It’s a noble prospects but bear in mind that in the UK alone 70% of our heating still comes from gas, the vast majority of our cars are petrol or diesel powered and we’re nowhere near being 100% renewable.
What Do Scientists Think?
In truth, there’s a pretty straight divide between those that believe it is possible and cost-effective and those that consider it a pipe dream. According to a report written by an Australian scientist, Benjamin Heard:
“Our assessment of studies proposing 100% renewable-electricity systems reveals that in all individual cases and across the aggregated evidence, the case for feasibility is inadequate for the formation of responsible policy directed at responding to climate change.”
A number of factors get in the way, say the naysayers, not least the fuel poverty experienced in many parts of the world that means coal, oil and gas are still the cheapest forms of energy production.
The Alternative Point of View
A response to this report, however, suggests a different future. Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology produced a counter-argument in September this year. What the debate revolves around is that Heard pointed out a number of hurdles, such as severe weather events and whether renewable sources such as variability of production could make for a stable grid, are too difficult to overcome.
The new report suggests that we already have many of the technologies and solutions that we need to get over any such barriers to a 100% renewable energy future. For instance, batteries can be used to store electricity and these are improving by the day. In fact, the report says that none of the issues pointed out in Heard’s report prevent the feasibility or validity of a pure clean energy future.
According to the report authors:
“100% renewable systems that meet the energy needs of all citizens at all times are cost-competitive with fossil-fuel-based systems, even before externalities such as global warming, water usage and environmental pollution are taken into account.”
It does require a certain re-invention of parts of our energy structure and some regions in the world will have more difficulty than others. But it is not unachievable.
The trouble is that most people are entrenched in their views when it comes to a renewable future, and that includes the people at the top. Donald Trump, just a few days after climate change scientists told us we were in the last chance saloon, said that theirs was a political agenda, suggesting it wasn’t to be taken seriously.
There are many people who believe him. In Brazil, elections may sway to the right in the next month and bring in a government that will decide to join the US and opt out of the climate change agreement. Others may follow.
The key, however, is that switching to 100% renewables is not only feasible but cost-effective and we can’t lose sight of that. The industry can create millions of jobs around the world and usher in a new age of energy prosperity for all of us.
And it will happen one day.
But how quickly? The truth is that it may not happen within the lifetime of most of us. As a species we can be tremendously resistant to change, especially when we’re still making plenty of money out of fossil fuels.
The problem is that it may all be too little too late as far as climate change is concerned. And that’s the real concern.