100% Renewable Energy – Is it Possible?

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In the last two centuries since humans discovered the tremendous potential of fossil fuels, there were many who had that nagging worry – how long will they last? While these non-renewable resources kept powering the equipment that allowed mankind to make great strides towards progress, there were repercussions in the form of climate change, air and water pollution and soil erosion.   The growing climate crisis and the rapid dwindling of fossil fuels have increased the need for eco-friendly ways to power the rapidly growing global population.  In that search for alternatives, the world has turned increasingly to solar and wind energy.

Although significant progress has been made in solar technology, there has always been skepticism that renewable energy resources could produce sufficient power to satisfy even a fraction of the world’s energy demand.

This skepticism could be proven wrong says energy experts. Dr. Dave Renne, President of the International Solar Energy Society stated that a number of recent authoritative studies have proven that there are no technical barriers to gaining 100% energy from renewable resources. Possible challenges to this goal are in the areas of business and market development, finance, public policy and political will.

Many countries are now looking at ways to reduce fossil fuel energy dependence by powering their cities with renewable resources. The most notable countries taking this initiative are Germany, Brazil, USA, Denmark, China and Spain.

Germany’s Story

Germany has recently pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below the 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80-85 percent by 2050. The German Advisory Council on the Environment states that using renewable resources like wind, solar power, biomass and geothermal energy, the electricity supply system can be converted towards the use of 100% renewable energies by the next 50 years.

According to Anna Leidreiter, Policy Officer for Climate and Energy at World Future Council,the renewable energy deployment in Germany has already resulted in more than 380,000 jobs. Expansion of renewable energy use has also reduced the costs for energy imports by € 6 billion in 2011 and has helped politicians to spend the limited resources on local development. Closely following Germany is Denmark which has also taken drastic leaps in becoming energy independent.

The American Dream

In the US, a team of scientists led by Mark Jacobson at Stanford University is conducting a series of planned regional analyses to determine whether each state could meet all its energy requirements from renewable resources.

Mr. Jacobson’s team published a study recently showing that with the right mix of wind, solar and hydroelectric power, New York could gain 100% energy from renewable resources within the state by 2030. The same team conducted a study showing that the entire world could be powered by renewable energy by 2030.

The team states that in order to achieve New York’s energy requirement, the state would need to install about 271 gigawatts of renewable generation. By installing 12,700 new offshore wind turbines about 40 percent of renewable generation can be achieved and the rest by a combination of onshore wind and solar arrays, hydroelectric, tidal and geothermal plants and installations.

Mr. Jacobson stated that nearly 2.5-3 million people die prematurely from fossil fuel air pollution worldwide each year which means that nearly 100 million people have perished from air pollution over the past 100 years. He added that drastic problems like rising energy demands, pollution and climate change require drastic solutions.

By shifting from fuels to electricity, Mr. Jacobson predicted that the global energy demand would decline by 32 percent by 2030, even without accounting for energy efficiency measures that would also be adopted.

A similar shift to electricity and electrolytic hydrogen would cut primary energy demand by 37 percent in the US said Jacobson. This switch would cut California’s energy demand by 44 percent as it would convert the transportation sector to electric propulsion.

This study is based on the assumption that electricity costs would decline compared to fossil fuel power costs, and more new jobs would be created by this transition. It would also stabilize the global energy security and price and only 0.4% of land would be required for setting up renewable facilities.

According to Stephen Berberich, President and CEO of the California Independent System Operator Corp., the utility industry is completely transformed when the state’s energy demand is met by renewable energy. He added that the move to renewable energy will be driven by development of new technologies, economic imperatives and concern over climate change.

He stated that customers in the future will enjoy transparent pricing and will be able to control their energy use with the help of online applications and advanced networking devices. 

Future of Energy Systems

From the above study, we can safely conclude that it is only a matter of time before renewable energy takes over on economic grounds alone. In order to move towards achieving 100% renewable energy, it is also necessary to have high citizen participation and regional value creation from decentralized renewable energy production. Jacobson’s report observes that a growing number of regions, cities, towns, and communities are planning to become fully dependent on renewable energy. The report envisions a future where instead of a simple restructured energy system; there occurs a drastic evolution of renewable technologies and the creation of highly efficient, transformed energy systems.