Earth:Renewable energy transition

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An aerial view of the Power County wind farm in Idaho, United States.[1]

The renewable energy transition is the process of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. This transition can impact many aspects of life including the environment, society, the economy and governance.[2]

The rationale for the transition is often to limit the adverse effects of energy consumption on the environment.[3] This includes reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and mitigating climate change.[4] In 2019 the cost of renewable energy reached the point where it is cheaper to build and operate than coal-fired power plants.[5]

Transition to Renewable Energy

To fully embrace the renewable energy transition, thorough research has been conducted and it has been acknowledged that there are pivotal areas for growth within the industry. Investing in new technology research is imperative in providing answers for the following topics: efficiency, storage and variability. Regarding photovoltaic technology, efficiency plays a part in its capacity to be a part of the transition. With the ideal efficiency rate being 15%, researchers must invest in building the capacity of this technology.[6] Additionally, energy storage is reliant upon local infrastructure. For energy transportation and flexibility, storage is vital for the renewable energy transition.[7] More specifically with the natural variations of several energy sources such as solar, there must be flexible energy sources to fulfill peak demand. Therefore, there must be an established flexible and inflexible energy structure to account for any variability.[8] Research within the renewable energy technology field is well underway, and while there is always room for improvement, the technology is established.[9]

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The renewable energy transition is reliant upon the implementation of renewable energy alternatives to replace fossil fuel and natural gas assets. There are outstanding examples of companies that have achieved this integration of new technologies before, such as Ørsted who will have replaced coal with 99% wind energy by 2025.[10] Large scale implementation strategies of alternatives are being pursued to escalate the transition around the world.[4]

Drivers of Renewable Energy Transition

Climate Change action is an integral part in addressing the IPCC Report.[11]

Climate change can be attributed to the use of fossil fuel energy and the contribution of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This increased level of greenhouse gas emissions creates adverse effects on a changing climate such as increased intensity and frequency of natural disasters.[12] The IPCC has said with high certainty that society has 12 years to complete an entire transition to avoid catastrophic climate change.[13] This reality has motivated the conversation of a renewable energy transition as a mitigation tactic.

The fossil fuel industry faces risk completely separate from the impacts of climate change. Fossil fuels are a limited resource and are at risk of reaching a peak in which diminishing returns will become prevalent.[14] Uncertainty with the supply of this resource questions the security of the industry and the investments in fossil fuel companies. Companies such as Blackrock are using sustainability measures to address their strategy and structure, as these evaluated risks impact their desired level of involvement with the industry as a result.[15] These driving conversations are motivating organizations to reconsider the future of the energy sector.

Technologies

Wind energy

Wind energy is a viable form of renewable energy, as wind is abundant and inexhaustible. Its use produces no toxic pollution nor greenhouse gas emissions. There is enough wind on Earth and in the atmosphere which could be transformed into energy to easily power the planet- we could capture more than 20 times the 18 terawatts of energy that the global population uses.[16] Wind turbines themselves are very space efficient, as one turbine can generate enough electricity to power 600 U.S. homes.[17] Wind energy is also becoming more affordable, as prices have decreased over 80% since 1980 and are expected to keep decreasing. The operational costs associated with wind power are also low.[18]

However, conflicts can arise concerning land use, as the wind turbines use between 30 and 141 acres per megawatt of power output capacity.[19] Some opponents of wind energy argue that the land could be better used, although the land can still be used for grazing livestock, agriculture, and highways. Another issue regarding wind energy concerns the disturbance to wildlife. Many studies have been done to assess the impact of wind turbines on bird and bat populations, and the disturbance of wind turbines has been found to be relatively low and does not pose a threat to species population.[20]

Solar energy

Photovoltaic array at the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center in Montezuma County, Colorado. This site uses 95% renewable energy and is an example of the renewable energy transition occurring.

Solar energy is another commonly used renewable energy source. It could provide well over the energy needed to power our world- the surface of the earth receives 120,000 terawatts of solar radiation, which is 20,000 times more power than what is needed to supply the entire world.[21] Solar power can be used to generate electricity in places that lack a grid connection, such as distilling water in Africa, or even to power satellites in space.[22] There are no moving parts involved in most applications of solar power, leading to no noise associated with photovoltaic panels. This compares favorable to certain other green-techs such as wind turbines.

Unfortunately, solar energy still comes with a few drawbacks. Similarly to wind energy, land use is a concern. However, solar panels can be placed on rooftops and in this case they do not take up space that could have been used for something more productive. Panels can also be placed at low quality locations such as brownfields, abandoned mining land, or existing transportation and transmission corridors. The manufacturing of solar panels also has some negative impacts. They require a significant amount of water to be produced, but dry-cooling technology can reduce water use at manufacturing plants by approximately 90 percent.[23]

Geothermal energy

Photograph of a geothermal station.

Geothermal energy is another type of viable and increasingly common renewable energy source.The process of obtaining this energy is emission free- there is absolutely zero carbon used when it comes to the production of this type of power.[24] The procedure can clean out sulfur that may have generally been discharged from other processes.[25] Geothermal energy has the smallest land footprint of any major energy source in the world.[26]

Water is also used in obtaining this type of energy. Depending on the cooling technology used, geothermal plants can require between 1,700 and 4,000 gallons of water per megawatt-hour of energy produced.[27] However, most geothermal plants can use either geothermal fluid or freshwater for cooling, and using the prior has a significantly lesser environmental impact. There are both open-looped and close-looped geothermal systems, and open-loop systems emit small amounts of hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, ammonia, methane, and boron.[28]

Hydroelectric energy

Gold Ray Dam on the Rogue River upstream of Gold Hill in the U.S. state of Oregon. Fish ladder visible on the far bank. The dam, which made fish passage difficult, was removed later in 2010.

Hydroelectric power includes both massive hydroelectric dams and small run-of-the-river plants. Hydroelectric plants emit fewer greenhouse gasses than fossil based power sources, which helps mitigate climate change, acid rains, and smog.[29] Hydroelectric power also improves the air quality we breathe because it does not emit air pollutants, and the plants do not produce toxic byproducts.[30] Hydroelectric power plants have an average lifetime of 50 – 100 years, meaning they are strategic investments that can support many future generations. They can also be easily upgraded to fall in line with the modern day’s technological requirements and have considerably lower operating and maintenance costs.[31]

Land use is a topic of concern regarding this energy source, as the size of the reservoir created by a hydroelectric project can vary widely. Flooding land for a hydroelectric reservoir has a significant environmental impact, as it destroys forest, wildlife habitat, agricultural land, and scenic lands.[32] There is also a significant impact on wildlife. Fish and other organisms can be injured and killed by turbine blades.[32] Aside from direct contact, there are also wildlife impacts within the dammed reservoirs and downstream from the facility. Reservoirs will have above average amounts of sediments and nutrients, which can cultivate an excess of algae and lead to eutrophication. In addition, reservoirs are required to release a certain amount of water every year to prevent rivers downstream from drying up, which would be detrimental to those ecosystems.[23]

Tidal energy

Tidal energy utilizes the gravitational and kinetic energy of large bodies of water. The physical push and pull of the tides causes a turbine to spin, and that turbine converts the water's movement into electricity.[33] This form of renewable energy produces no pollution, and takes up little physical space when compared to other forms of renewable energy. It is predictable and reliable form of energy, as most water bodies experience two high tides and two low tides per day. This cycle is easily predicted and isn’t subject to unexpected changes unlike many other renewable resources. Some systems also harvest energy from tidal currents regardless of which direction they are flowing, allowing the production of energy to go completely uninterrupted.[34] The equipment used is long lasting, with an average lifespan of 75-100 years.[35]

However, some cons do exist. The systems require turbulent water to power them, meaning a large foundation needs to be built, which can result in habitat destruction. The greatest offender is the tidal barrage system which utilizes dams that can impede the movement of sea life and potentially wreak havoc on aquatic ecosystems.[33] Tidal energy systems also have a high upfront cost. Although they have long lifespans and eventually pay themselves off, governments are more concerned with their 5-year budget rather than a 60-year projection.[36]

Nuclear Energy

There has been a debate around whether nuclear energy is considered renewable or not. As it is still unknown whether nuclear energy is a viable renewable energy source, it will not be included in this page's discussion.

Economic Aspects

See also: Earth:Economics of climate change mitigation

Business models

Economic driving forces in the renewable energy transition take multiple approaches. Businesses that have joined the renewable energy cause do so by relying on business models. The need for business models, when dealing with the economics of the renewable energy transition, are crucial due to the lack of concrete research done in this area.[37] These models show projections of marginal costs, efficiency, and demand in different periods of time.[38] Business models are financial assistants that help guide businesses, companies, and individuals looking to get involved.

Global rivalries

Global rivalries have contributed to the driving forces of the economics behind the renewable energy transition. Competition to reach ultimate efficiency with renewable energy is motivating countries to improve further and further. Technological innovations developed within a country have the potential to become an economic force.[39] In Germany, the country realized to achieve this, policy would go hand in hand with economics. Policies reflect the economy, which for the economy of the country, it would need to have strong policies in place to support the transition to renewable energy. With economic growth being a priority, renewable energy transition policies would strengthen the transition status.[40]

Renewable energy growth creates winners and losers. Fossil fuel companies risk becoming losers. To stay competitive the adaptation to join the renewable energy race is considered[41]. Global investments on renewable energy is increasing at a high rate. In 2018, the total global investment in renewable energy neared the $300 billion mark[42]. Trends in global renewable energy such as this, that show stability in the market, investments are being made profitable for the future. Competition for dominance in the renewable energy market sparks interest in trades and investments. With the United States and European Union accounting for 60 percent of the total capacity and investment in renewable energy, the two economies are likely to become the largest suppliers and consumers for the renewable energy services[41].

Economic players

Heat & Biomass Heating

In the renewable energy transition, the heating industry becomes an economic player. The heating industry is an interesting player as it entails many components. [43] When dealing with heat and the transition to renewable resources, the entire area being heated comes into play.{{Citation needed|date=April 2020} Analysis of the Impact of Heating-Thermal Generators Flexibility Expansion on Promoting Renewable Energy Integration Based on Production Cost Simulation. 2018 2nd IEEE Conference on Energy Internet and Energy System Integration (EI2), Energy Internet and Energy System Integration (EI2), 2018 2nd IEEE Conference On, 1–6. https://doi-org.proxyiub.uits.iu.edu/10.1109/EI2.2018.8582019</ref> When assessing the economic benefits of this transition, the costs are atop of the list of information needed. In order to make this transition in the heating industry costs such as if the costs to install these systems would produce a positive turnout. A system of such was implemented in Denmark that focused on wind power to help contribute to heating.[citation needed][44] The results of this showed a decrease in heating costs from 132 kWH to roughly 60 to 80 kWH. The results draw economic improvements in this transition by showing more efficiency in the heating industry and an increased value in wind power.[45] Alternatives for heating use are being introduced. New Hampshire has been experimenting with wood energy. Wood energy is a form of biomass/renewable energy that uses various types of wood as energy alternatives[46]. The burning of wood chips is amongst the most common types of wood energy used. Wood energy maintains an environmental balance of renewable energy while experiencing financial growth. CO2 emissions see decrease of nearly 90 percent when switching from fossil fuel to wood during the burning process. Transitioning from fossil fuel to wood energy is seen as an economic booster as the introduction of more wood energy plantations would mean greater production rates of wood biomass[47]. Heating accounts for up to 40 percent of a businesses operating costs. Transitioning to wood energy, specifically the wood chip heating systems, do not come cheap. Littleton Regional healthcare transitioned to this heating system; the cost was nearly $3 million[48].

Energy market

The energy market, in relation the economics behind the renewable energy transition, is its insurance policy. In the past, inconsistencies in the renewable energy field had caused skepticism. The increase in returns in the market has changed that perception. Recently, the costs for these energies have been reduced dramatically. For solar and wind power, the costs have dropped up to 60 to 80 percent.[49]

Wind Turbine Total Costs[50]

Wind energy is growing in usage, and much of this is due to the increase in wind energy production. Transitioning to wind energy assists in altering a countries dependency on foreign sources when it comes to energy. Allowing countries to build their economies from within, while helping the environment is a more common thought. While a setback to this method of energy is that it requires specifics in land available and location of land, there has still been an increase in wind turbines. From 2007-2017, the US wind energy consumption increased 590%[51]. The transition is viewed as a way to ensure the economies environmental sustainability.

Wind/Power systems

Power systems are economic players that take many contributors into account. When looking for economic benefits behind power systems, savings and costs are crucial topics being addressed. A determinant in addressing the costs and savings of power systems is the alternative routes to GHG emissions. Egypt introduced a plan to do so by stopping conventional power plants and converting them over to hybrid and wind farm plants. [52] The results of this were seen to decrease carbon dioxide emissions and save the state up to $14 million dollars.[53]

Determining the economic value of wind farms is the main predictor of production. The biggest cost occurred in wind farms are for the turbines themselves. With turbines varying in size, the smaller turbines are used at a more local and person level are more expensive on a per kilowatt of energy capacity rate, while larger ones are less expensive on these dynamics. Wind farms look at the total area of power it can produce, for a 500 MW wind farm, nearly 200,000 wind farms can be generated[54]. Many question whether having a small number of turbines would still be beneficial or not, and worth the cost. The intermittency costs of turbines show that the are less than one percent of the price of the wind energy price. This is shown by detailing that the addition of more turbines throughout an area increase the intermittency of individual turbines, allowing the farms with a lower supply to gain by another farm with larger supply of turbines[55]. Small residential and small commercial have the most profitability due to their low energy cost and short payback period. Specifically, this becomes more profitable with a 10 kW system[56].

Social Aspects

Influences

To gather a realistic understanding of the renewable energy transition, influences should be analyzed to understand the scope of the environment and conversation surrounding the transition. One of these influences is that of the oil industry. The oil industry controls the large majority of the world's energy supply and needs as it is the most accessible and available resource we have today.[57] With a history of continued success and sustained demand, the oil industry has become a stable aspect of society, the economy and the energy sector. To transition to renewable energy technologies, our [whose?]government and economy must address the oil industry and its control of the energy sector.[58]

Citizen's Climate Lobby in action[59]

One way that oil companies are able to continue their work despite growing environmental, social and economic concerns is through lobbying efforts within local and national government systems. Lobbying is defined as to conduct activities aimed at influencing public officials and especially members of a legislative body on legislation[60]

Historically, the climate lobby has been highly successful in limiting regulations on the oil industry and enabling business as usual techniques. From 1988 to 2005, Exxon Mobil, one of the largest oil companies in the world, spent nearly $16 million in anti-climate change lobbying and providing misleading information about climate change to the general public.[61] It is examples such as these, that show the significance of the oil industry as stakeholders within the government. In order for the renewable energy transition to succeed, the oil lobbying should be addressed and met with a strong economic, social and environmental case. The oil industry acquires lots of support through our banking and investment structure.[62] The stable nature of oil stock throughout history makes it a great option for investors. By investing in the fossil fuel industry, we provide them with financial support to continue with their business ventures.[63] The concept that we should no longer support the industry financially has led to the social movement known as divestment. Divestment is defined as the removal of your investment capital from stocks, bonds or funds in oil, coal and gas companies for both moral and financial reasons[64]

Banks, investing firms, governments, universities, institutions and businesses are all being challenged with this new moral argument against their existing investments in the fossil fuel industry and many such as Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the University of California, New York City and more have begun making the shift to more sustainable, eco-friendly investments.[65]

Impacts

The renewable energy transition has many benefits and challenges that are associated with it. One of the positive social impacts that is predicted is the use of local energy sources to provide stability and economic stimulation to local communities.[66] Not only does this benefit local utilities through portfolio diversification, but it also creates opportunities for energy trade between communities, states and regions.[67] Additionally, energy security has been a struggle worldwide that has led to many issues in the OPEC countries and beyond. Energy security is evaluated by analyzing the accessibility, availability, sustainability, regulatory and technological opportunity of our energy portfolio. Renewable Energy presents an opportunity to increase our energy security by becoming energy independent and have localized grids that decrease energy risks geopolitically.[68] In this sense, the benefits and positive outcomes of the renewable energy transition are profound.

There are also risks and negative impacts on society because of the renewable energy transition that need to be mitigated. The coal mining industry plays a large part in the existing energy portfolio and is one of the biggest targets for climate change activists due to the intense pollution and habitat disruption that it creates. The transition to renewable is expected to have decrease the need and viability of coal mining in the future.[69] This is a positive for climate change action, but can have severe impacts on the communities that rely on this business. Coal mining communities are considered vulnerable to the renewable energy transition. Not only do these communities face energy poverty already, but they also face economic collapse when the coal mining businesses move elsewhere or disappear altogether.[70] These communities need to quickly transition to alternative forms of work to support their families, but lack the resources and support to invest in themselves. This broken system perpetuates the poverty and vulnerability that decreases the adaptive capacity of coal mining communities.[70] Potential mitigation could include expanding the program base for vulnerable communities to assist with new training programs, opportunities for economic development and subsidies to assist with the transition.[71] Ultimately, the social impacts of the renewable energy transition will be extensive, but with mitigation strategies, the government[whose?] can ensure that it becomes a positive opportunity for all citizens.[72]

The Shepherds Flat Wind Farm is an 845 megawatt (MW) wind farm in the U.S. state of Oregon.
The 550 MW Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in California.
The 392 MW Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in California: The facility's three towers.
Construction of the Salt Tanks which provide efficient thermal energy storage [73] so that output can be provided after the sun goes down, and output can be scheduled to meet demand requirements.[74] The 280 MW Solana Generating Station is designed to provide six hours of energy storage. This allows the plant to generate about 38 percent of its rated capacity over the course of a year.[75]
Comparing trends in worldwide energy use, the growth of renewable energy to 2015 is the green line[76]

100% renewable energy

100% renewable energy refers to an energy system where all energy use is sourced from renewable energy sources. The endeavor to use 100% renewable energy for electricity, heating/cooling and transport is motivated by global warming, pollution and other environmental issues, as well as economic and energy security concerns. Shifting the total global primary energy supply to renewable sources requires a transition of the energy system, since most of today's energy is derived from non-renewable fossil fuels.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change there are few fundamental technological limits to integrating a portfolio of renewable energy technologies to meet most of total global energy demand. Renewable energy use has grown more quickly than even advocates anticipated.[77] As of 2019, however, it needs to grow six times faster to limit global warming to 2 °C (3.6 °F).[78]

100% renewable energy in a country is typically a more challenging goal than carbon neutrality.[citation needed] The latter is a climate mitigation target, politically decided by many countries, and may also be achieved by balancing the total carbon footprint of the country (not only emissions from energy and fuel) with carbon dioxide removal and carbon projects abroad.

In 2014, renewable sources such as wind, geothermal, solar, biomass, and burnt waste provided 19% of the total energy consumed worldwide, with roughly half of that coming from traditional use of biomass.[79] The most important sector is electricity with a renewable share of 22.8%, most of it coming from hydropower with a share of 16.6%, followed by wind with 3.1%.[79] As of 2018 according to REN21 transformation is picking up speed in the power sector, but urgent action is required in heating, cooling and transport.[80] There are many places around the world with grids that are run almost exclusively on renewable energy. At the national level, at least 30 nations already have renewable energy contributing more than 20% of the energy supply. According to a review of the 181 peer-reviewed papers on 100% renewable energy which were published until 2018, "[t]he great majority of all publications highlights the technical feasibility and economic viability of 100% RE systems." While there are still many publications which focus on electricity only, there is a growing number of papers that cover different energy sectors and sector-coupled, integrated energy systems. This cross-sectoral, holistic approach is seen as an important feature of 100% renewable energy systems and is based on the assumption "that the best solutions can be found only if one focuses on the synergies between the sectors" of the energy system such as electricity, heat, transport or industry.[81]

Professors S. Pacala and Robert H. Socolow of Princeton University have developed a series of "climate stabilization wedges" that can allow us to maintain our quality of life while avoiding catastrophic climate change, and "renewable energy sources," in aggregate, constitute the largest number of their "wedges."[82]

Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and director of its Atmosphere and Energy program, says that producing all new energy with wind power, solar power, and hydropower by 2030 is feasible, and that existing energy supply arrangements could be replaced by 2050.[83] Barriers to implementing the renewable energy plan are seen to be "primarily social and political, not technological or economic".[84] Jacobson says that energy costs today with a wind, solar, and water system should be similar to today's energy costs from other optimally cost-effective strategies.[85] The main obstacle against this scenario is the lack of political will.[86] His conclusions have been disputed by other researchers.[87] Jacobson published a response that disputed the piece point by point[88] and claimed that the authors were motivated by allegiance to energy technologies that the 2015 paper excluded.[87]

Similarly, in the United States, the independent National Research Council has noted that "sufficient domestic renewable resources exist to allow renewable electricity to play a significant role in future electricity generation and thus help confront issues related to climate change, energy security, and the escalation of energy costs ... Renewable energy is an attractive option because renewable resources available in the United States, taken collectively, can supply significantly greater amounts of electricity than the total current or projected domestic demand."[89]

The main barriers to the widespread implementation of large-scale renewable energy and low-carbon energy strategies are political rather than technological. According to the 2013 Post Carbon Pathways report, which reviewed many international studies, the key roadblocks are: climate change denial, the fossil fuels lobby, political inaction, unsustainable energy consumption, outdated energy infrastructure, and financial constraints.[90]

History

Using 100% renewable energy was first suggested in a paper in Science [91] published in 1975 by Danish physicist Bent Sørensen, which was followed by several other proposals.[92] In 1976 energy policy analyst Amory Lovins coined the term "soft energy path" to describe an alternative future where energy efficiency and appropriate renewable energy sources steadily replace a centralized energy system based on fossil and nuclear fuels.[93]

In 1998 the first detailed analysis of scenarios with very high shares of renewables were published. These were followed by the first detailed 100% scenarios. In 2006 a PhD thesis was published by Czisch in which it was shown that in a 100% renewable scenario energy supply could match demand in every hour of the year in Europe and North Africa. In the same year Danish Energy professor Henrik Lund published a first paper[94] in which he addresses the optimal combination of renewables, which was followed by several other papers on the transition to 100% renewable energy in Denmark. Since then Lund has been publishing several papers on 100% renewable energy. After 2009 publications began to rise steeply, covering 100% scenarios for countries in Europe, America, Australia and other parts of the world.[92]

Even in the early 21st century it was extraordinary for scientists and decision-makers to consider the concept of 100% renewable electricity. However, renewable energy progress has been so rapid that things have totally changed since then:[95]

Solar photovoltaic modules have dropped about 75 percent in price. Current scientific and technological advances in the laboratory suggest that they will soon be so cheap that the principal cost of going solar on residential and commercial buildings will be installation. On-shore wind power is spreading over all continents and is economically competitive with fossil and nuclear power in several regions. Concentrated solar thermal power (CST) with thermal storage has moved from the demonstration stage of maturity to the limited commercial stage and still has the potential for further cost reductions of about 50 percent.[95]

Renewable energy use has grown much faster than even advocates had anticipated.[77] Wind turbines generate 39[96] percent of Danish electricity, and Denmark has many biogas digesters and waste-to-energy plants as well. Together, wind and biomass provide 44% of the electricity consumed by the country's six million inhabitants. In 2010, Portugal's 10 million people produced more than half their electricity from indigenous renewable energy resources. Spain's 40 million inhabitants meet one-third of their electrical needs from renewables.[77]

Renewable energy has a history of strong public support. In America, for example, a 2013 Gallup survey showed that two in three Americans want the U.S. to increase domestic energy production using solar power (76%), wind power (71%), and natural gas (65%). Far fewer want more petroleum production (46%) and more nuclear power (37%). Least favored is coal, with about one in three Americans favouring it.[97]

REN21 says renewable energy already plays a significant role and there are many policy targets which aim to increase this:

At the national level, at least 30 nations around the world already have renewable energy contributing more than 20% of energy supply. National renewable energy markets are projected to continue to grow strongly in the coming decade and beyond, and some 120 countries have various policy targets for longer-term shares of renewable energy, including a binding 20% by 2020 target for the European Union. Some countries have much higher long-term policy targets of up to 100% renewables. Outside Europe, a diverse group of 20 or more other countries target renewable energy shares in the 2020–2030 time frame that range from 10% to 50%.[98]

Nuclear power involves accident risks with substantial consequences (e.g., Fukushima nuclear disaster, Chernobyl disaster) and the expensive problem of safe long-term high-level radioactive waste management, and carbon capture and storage has rather limited safe storage potentials.[92] These constraints have also led to an interest in 100% renewable energy. A well established body of academic literature has been written over the past decade[when?], evaluating scenarios for 100% renewable energy for various geographical areas. In recent years[when?], more detailed analyses have emerged from government and industry sources.[99] The incentive to use 100% renewable energy is created by global warming and ecological as well as economic concerns, post peak oil.

The first country to propose 100% renewable energy was Iceland, in 1998.[100] Proposals have been made for Japan in 2003,[101] and for Australia in 2011.[102] Albania, Iceland, and Paraguay obtain essentially all of their electricity from renewable sources (Albania and Paraguay 100% from hydroelectricity, Iceland 72% hydro and 28% geothermal).[103] Norway obtains nearly all of its electricity from renewable sources (97 percent from hydropower).[104] Iceland proposed using hydrogen for transportation and its fishing fleet. Australia proposed biofuel for those elements of transportation not easily converted to electricity. The road map for the United States,[105][106] commitment by Denmark,[107] and Vision 2050 for Europe set a 2050 timeline for converting to 100% renewable energy,[108] later reduced to 2040 in 2011.[109] Zero Carbon Britain 2030 proposes eliminating carbon emissions in Britain by 2030 by transitioning to renewable energy.[110] In 2015, Hawaii enacted a law that the Renewable Portfolio Standard shall be 100 percent by 2045. This is often confused with renewable energy. If electricity produced on the grid is 65 GWh from fossil fuel and 35 GWh from renewable energy and rooftop off grid solar produces 80 GWh of renewable energy then the total renewable energy is 115 GWh and the total electricity on the grid is 100 GWh. Then the RPS is 115 percent.[111]

Cities like Paris and Strasbourg in France, planned to use 100% renewable energy by 2050.[112][113]

It is estimated that the world will spend an extra $8 trillion over the next 25 years to prolong the use of non-renewable resources, a cost that would be eliminated by transitioning instead to 100% renewable energy.[114] Research that has been published in Energy Policy suggests that converting the entire world to 100% renewable energy by 2050 is both possible and affordable, but requires political support.[115][116] It would require building many more wind turbines and solar power systems but wouldn't utilize bioenergy. Other changes involve use of electric cars and the development of enhanced transmission grids and storage.[117][118] As part of the Paris Agreement, countries periodically update their climate change targets for the future, by 2018 no G20 country had committed to a 100% renewable target.[119]

Until 2018 there were 181 peer-reviewed papers on 100% renewable energy. In the same year, 100% renewable energy was also mentioned in the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C as a potential means to "expand the range of 1.5 °C pathways", if the findings can be corroborated.[81]

Feasibility studies

In 2011, the refereed journal Energy Policy published two articles by Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of engineering at Stanford University, and research scientist Mark A. Delucchi, about changing our energy supply mix and "Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power". The articles analyze the feasibility of providing worldwide energy for electric power, transportation, and heating/cooling from wind, water, and sunlight (WWS), which are safe clean options. In Part I, Jacobson and Delucchi discuss WWS energy system characteristics, aspects of energy demand, WWS resource availability, WWS devices needed, and material requirements.[120] They estimate that 3,800,000 5 MW wind turbines, 5350 100 MW geothermal power plants, and 270 new 1300 MW hydroelectric power plants will be required. In terms of solar power, an additional 49,000 300 MW concentrating solar plants, 40,000 300 MW solar photovoltaic power plants, and 1.7 billion 3 kW rooftop photovoltaic systems will also be needed. Such an extensive WWS infrastructure could decrease world power demand by 30%.[120] In Part II, Jacobson and Delucchi address variability of supply, system economics, and energy policy initiatives associated with a WWS system. The authors advocate producing all new energy with WWS by 2030 and replacing existing energy supply arrangements by 2050. Barriers to implementing the renewable energy plan are seen to be "primarily social and political, not technological or economic". Energy costs with a WWS system should be similar to today's energy costs.[121]

In general, Jacobson has said wind, water and solar technologies can provide 100 percent of the world's energy, eliminating all fossil fuels.[122] He advocates a "smart mix" of renewable energy sources to reliably meet electricity demand:

Because the wind blows during stormy conditions when the sun does not shine and the sun often shines on calm days with little wind, combining wind and solar can go a long way toward meeting demand, especially when geothermal provides a steady base and hydroelectric can be called on to fill in the gaps.[123]

A 2012 study by the University of Delaware for a 72 GW system considered 28 billion combinations of renewable energy and storage and found the most cost-effective, for the PJM Interconnection, would use 17 GW of solar, 68 GW of offshore wind, and 115 GW of onshore wind, although at times as much as three times the demand would be provided. 0.1% of the time would require generation from other sources.[124]

In March 2012, Denmark's parliament agreed on a comprehensive new set promotional programs for energy efficiency and renewable energy that will lead to the country getting 100 percent of electricity, heat and fuels from renewables by 2050.[125] IRENEC is an annual conference on 100% renewable energy started in 2011 by Eurosolar Turkey. The 2013 conference was in Istanbul.[126][127]

More recently, Jacobson and his colleagues have developed detailed proposals for switching to 100% renewable energy produced by wind, water and sunlight, for New York,[128] California[129] and Washington[130] states, by 2050. As of 2014, a more expansive new plan for the 50 states has been drawn up, which includes an online interactive map showing the renewable resource potential of each of the 50 states. The 50-state plan is part of The Solutions Project, an independent outreach effort led by Jacobson, actor Mark Ruffalo, and film director Josh Fox.[131]

As of 2014, many detailed assessments show that the energy service needs of a world enjoying radically higher levels of wellbeing, can be economically met entirely through the diverse currently available technological and organisational innovations around wind, solar, biomass, biofuel, hydro, ocean and geothermal energy. Debate over detailed plans remain, but transformations in global energy services based entirely around renewable energy are in principle technically practicable, economically feasible, socially viable, and so realisable. This prospect underpins the ambitious commitment by Germany, one of the world's most successful industrial economies, to undertake a major energy transition, Energiewende.[132]

In 2015 a study was published in Energy and Environmental Science that describes a pathway to 100% renewable energy in the United States by 2050 without using biomass. Implementation of this roadmap is regarded as both environmentally and economically feasible and reasonable, as by 2050 it would save about $600 Billion Dollars health costs a year due to reduced air pollution and $3.3 Trillion global warming costs. This would translate in yearly cost savings per head of around $8300 compared to a business as usual pathway. According to that study, barriers that could hamper implementation are neither technical nor economic but social and political, as most people didn't know that benefits from such a transformation far exceeded the costs.[133]

In June 2017, twenty-one researchers published an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America rejecting Jacobson's earlier PNAS article, accusing him of modeling errors and of using invalid modeling tools.[134][135] They further asserted he made implausible assumptions through his reliance upon increasing national energy storage from 43 minutes to 7 weeks, increasing hydrogen production by 100,000%, and increasing hydropower by the equivalent of 600 Hoover Dams.[134] Article authors David G. Victor called Jacobson's work "dangerous" and Ken Caldeira emphasized that increasing hydropower output by 1,300 gigawatts, a 25% increase, is the equivalent flow of 100 Mississippi Rivers.[134] Jacobson published a response in the same issue of the PNAS and also authored a blog post where he asserted the researchers were advocates of the fossil fuel industry.[134][136][137] Another study published in 2017 confirmed the earlier results for a 100% renewable power system for North America, without changes in hydropower assumptions, but with more realistic emphasis on a balanced storage portfolio, in particular seasonal storage, and for competitive economics.[138]

In 2015, Jacobson and Delucchi, together with Mary Cameron and Bethany Frew, examined with computer simulation (LOADMATCH), in more detail how a wind-water-solar (WWS) system can track the energy demand from minute to minute. This turned out to be possible in the United States for 6 years, including WWS variability by extreme weather events.[139] In 2017, the plan was further developed for 139 countries by a team of 27 researchers[140] and in 2018, Jacobson and Delucchi with Mary Cameron and Brian Mathiesen published the LOADMATCH results for 20 regions in which the 139 countries in the world are divided. According to this research, a WWS system can follow the demand in all regions.[141][142]

Places with near 100% renewable electricity

The following places meet 90% or more of their average yearly electricity demand with renewable energy (incomplete list):

Place Population Electricity Source
Aller-Leine Valley, Germany 75,000 (2012) 63.5% wind, 30% biogas, 10.7% hydro, 3.1% solar [143][144]
Aspen, Colorado, United States 6,658 (2010) Hydroelectric, wind and solar and geothermal [145]
Burlington, Vermont, United States 42,417 (2010) 35.3% hydro, 35.3% wood, 27.9% wind, 1.4% solar photovoltaic [146]
British Columbia, Canada 4,700,000 (2017) 97% hydroelectric [147]
Centralia, Washington 17,216 90.6% hydro, 7.9% nuclear [23]
Chelan Cty., Washington, United States 76,533 95.7% hydro [23]
Costa Rica 4,857,000 99% renewable electricity. Hydroelectric (90%), geothermal, wind (and others) [148]
Democratic Republic of the Congo 84,000,000 Almost 100% hydro, but only 14% of households electrified
Douglas Cty., Washington, United States 41,945 100% hydro [23]
Eigg, Scotland, United Kingdom 83 90% hydroelectricity, wind, and solar, 10% diesel generator, batteries [149]
Georgetown, Texas, United States 70,000 100% - 154MW solar and wind balanced with grid connection [150]
Greensburg, Kansas, United States 1400 100% - wind balanced with grid connection [145][151]
Iceland 329,100 72% hydroelectricity, 28% geothermal, wind, and solar power, less than 0.1% combustible fuel [152]
Kodiak Island, Alaska , United States 13,448 80.9% hydroelectricity, 19.8% wind power, 0.3% diesel generator [153]
Lower Austria, Austria 1,612,000 63% hydroelectricity, 26% wind, 9% biomass, 2% solar [154]
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany 1,650,000 net greater than 100% with wind, solar, and other renewables [155][156]
Norway 5,140,000 96% hydroelectricity, 2% combustible fuel, 2% geothermal, wind, and solar [152]
Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada 525,604 95% hydroelectricity [157]
Orkney, Scotland, United Kingdom 21,349 generates over 100% of its net power from mainly wind and marine power. Connected to the mainland for grid balance and backup power [158]
Palo Alto, California , United States 66,000 50% hydro, rest a combination of solar, wind and biogas [159]
Paraguay 7,010,000 Electricity sector in Paraguay is 100% hydroelectricity, about 90% of which is exported, remaining 10% covers domestic demand [160]
Pend Oreille Cty., Washington, United States 13,354 97.1% hydro [23]
Quebec, Canada 8,200,000 99% renewable electricity is the main energy used in Quebec (41%), followed by oil (38%) and natural gas (10%) [161]
Samsø, Denmark 3,806 net greater than 100% wind power and biomass, connected to mainland for balance and backup power [162][163]
Schleswig-Holstein, Germany 2,820,000 net greater than 100% with wind, solar, and biomass [164][165]
Seattle, Washington, United States 724,745 86% hydroelectricity, 7% wind, 1% biogas [166][23]
South Island, New Zealand 1,115,000 98.2% hydroelectricity and 1.6% wind. Around one-fifth of generation is exported to the North Island. [167]
Tacoma, Washington, United States 208,100 85% hydro, 6% wind [23]
Tajikistan 8,734,951 (2016) Hydropower supplies nearly 100 percent of Tajikistan's electricity. [168]
Tau, American Samoa 873 (2000) ~100% solar power, with battery backup [169]
Tilos, Greece 400 (winter), 3,000 (summer) 100% wind and solar power, with battery backup [170]
Tokelau 1,411 100% solar power, with battery backup [171]
Uruguay 3,300,000 (2013) 94.5% renewable electricity; wind power (and biomass and solar power) is used to stretch hydroelectricity reserves into the dry season [172]
Wildpoldsried, Germany 2,512 (2013) 500% wind, solar, hydro [173]
Yukon, Canada 35,874 94% hydroelectricity [174]

Some other places have high percentages, for example the electricity sector in Denmark, as of 2014, is 45% wind power, with plans in place to reach 85%. The electricity sector in Canada and the electricity sector in New Zealand have even higher percentages of renewables (mostly hydro), 65% and 75% respectively, and Austria is approaching 70%.[175] As of 2015, the electricity sector in Germany sometimes meets almost 100% of the electricity demand with PV and wind power, and renewable electricity is over 25%.[176][177] Albania has 94.8% of installed capacity as hydroelectric, 5.2% diesel generator; but Albania imports 39% of its electricity.[178][179] In 2016, Portugal achieved 100% renewable electricity for four days between 7 and 11 May, partly because efficient energy use had reduced electricity demand.[180] France and Sweden have low carbon intensity, since they predominantly use a mixture of nuclear power and hydroelectricity. In 2018 Scotland met 76% of their demand from renewable sources.[181][182]

Although electricity is currently a big fraction of primary energy; it is to be expected that with renewable energy deployment primary energy use will go down sharply as electricity use increases, as it is likely to be combined with some degree of further electrification.[183][184] For example, electric cars achieve much better fuel efficiency than fossil fuel cars, and another example is renewable heat such as in the case of Denmark which is proposing to move to greater use of heat pumps for heating buildings which provide multiple kilowatts of heat per kilowatt of electricity.

100% clean electricity

Other electricity generating sources are considered clean, though not necessarily renewable, as they also do not emit carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases and air pollutants. The largest of these is nuclear energy which produces no emissions. Carbon capture and storage projects may still use coal or natural gas but capture carbon dioxide for storage or alternative uses. Pathways to eliminate greenhouse gases may include these in addition to renewable energy so as to avoid shutting down existing plants and allow for flexibility in designing a carbon-free electric grid.

In 2018 California passed SB 100, which will mandate 100% clean, carbon-free by 2045, including a 60% renewable electricity goal by 2030.[185][186] 2019 legislation in Washington (state) will also require 100% clean electricity by 2045, eliminating coal by 2025.[187] Further states and territories that will require 100% carbon-free electricity are Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC.[188]

Obstacles

The most significant barriers to the widespread implementation of large-scale renewable energy and low carbon energy strategies, at the pace required to prevent runaway climate change, are primarily political and not technological.[84] According to the 2013 Post Carbon Pathways report, which reviewed many international studies, the key roadblocks are:[90]

NASA Climate scientist James Hansen discusses the problem with a rapid phase out of fossil fuels and said that while it is conceivable in places such as New Zealand and Norway, "suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy."[189][190] In 2013, Smil analyzed proposals to depend on wind and solar-generated electricity including the proposals of Jacobson and colleagues, and writing in an issue of Spectrum prepared by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, he identified numerous points of concern, such as cost, intermittent power supply, growing NIMBYism, and a lack of infrastructure as negative factors and said that "History and a consideration of the technical requirements show that the problem is much greater than these advocates have supposed."[189][191] Smil and Hansen are concerned about the variable output of solar and wind power, but American physicist Amory Lovins has said that the electricity grid can cope, just as it routinely backs up nonworking coal-fired and nuclear plants with working ones.[192]

In 1999 American academic Dr. Gregory Unruh published a dissertation identifying the systemic barriers to the adoption and diffusion of renewable energy technologies. This theoretical framework was called Carbon Lock-in and pointed to the creation of self-reinforcing feedbacks that arise through the co-evolution of large technological systems, like electricity and transportation networks, with the social and political institutions that support and benefit from system growth. Once established, these techno-institutional complexes[193] become "locked-in" and resist efforts to transform them towards more environmentally sustainable systems based on renewable sources.

Lester R. Brown founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C., says a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy is both possible and necessary. Brown compares with the U.S. entry into World War II and the subsequent rapid mobilization and transformation of the US industry and economy. A quick transition to 100% renewable energy and saving of our civilization is proposed by Brown to follow an approach with similar urgency.[194]

The International Energy Agency says that there has been too much attention on issue of the variability of renewable electricity production.[195] The issue of intermittent supply applies to popular renewable technologies, mainly wind power and solar photovoltaics, and its significance depends on a range of factors which include the market penetration of the renewables concerned, the balance of plant and the wider connectivity of the system, as well as the demand side flexibility. Variability will rarely be a barrier to increased renewable energy deployment when dispatchable generation such as hydroelectricity or solar thermal storage is also available. But at high levels of market penetration it requires careful analysis and management, and additional costs may be required for back-up or system modification.[195] Renewable electricity supply in the 20-50+% penetration range has already been implemented in several European systems, albeit in the context of an integrated European grid system:[196]

In 2011, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world's leading climate researchers selected by the United Nations, said "as infrastructure and energy systems develop, in spite of the complexities, there are few, if any, fundamental technological limits to integrating a portfolio of renewable energy technologies to meet a majority share of total energy demand in locations where suitable renewable resources exist or can be supplied".[197] IPCC scenarios "generally indicate that growth in renewable energy will be widespread around the world".[198] The IPCC said that if governments were supportive, and the full complement of renewable energy technologies were deployed, renewable energy supply could account for almost 80% of the world's energy use within forty years.[199] Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, said the necessary investment in renewables would cost only about 1% of global GDP annually. This approach could contain greenhouse gas levels to less than 450 parts per million, the safe level beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible.[199]

In November 2014 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came out with their fifth report, saying that in the absence of any one technology (such as bioenergy, carbon dioxide capture and storage, nuclear, wind and solar), climate change mitigation costs can increase substantially depending on which technology is absent. For example, it may cost 40% more to reduce carbon emissions without carbon dioxide capture. (Table 3.2)[200]

Google spent $30 million on their RE<C project to develop renewable energy and stave off catastrophic climate change. The project was cancelled after concluding that a best-case scenario for rapid advances in renewable energy could only result in emissions 55 percent below the fossil fuel projections for 2050.[201]

Seasonal energy storage

Hydropower is currently the only large scale low-carbon seasonal energy storage. In countries with high variation in energy demand by season (for example the UK uses far more gas for heating in the winter than it uses electricity) but lacking hydropower electrical interconnectors to countries with lots of hydropower (e.g. UK - Norway) will probably be insufficient and development of a hydrogen economy will likely be needed: this is being trialled in the UK and 8 TWh of inter-seasonal hydrogen energy storage has been proposed.[202]

In Australia as well as storing renewable energy as hydrogen it is also proposed to be exported in the form of ammonia.[203]

See also

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