‘Possible to switch to 100% renewable energy’

‘Possible to switch to 100% renewable energy’

Amid gloom-and-doom predictions on the impact of climate change, a global research study has, for the first time, projected that a global transition to 100% renewable energy is possible by 2050 across all sectors, including power, heat generation, transport, and desalination, provided there is the political will to achieve it.

The study underlines that it is possible to achieve the target under the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep the rise in global average temperatures within 2 degrees Centigrade over pre-industrial levels.

The study, released on Friday by Berlin-based Energy Watch Group and the Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology in Finland, has used a modeling exercise to simulate the complete transition to renewable energy in nine major world regions. The modeling computes the most cost-effective mix of technologies based on locally available renewable energy sources.

Dedicated to Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and her #FridaysforFuture movement that calls for school strikes for climate, the study is based on four and half years of research and modeling computations by 14 scientists. It states that the transition will require mass electrification of all sectors.

Electricity generation in 2050 will be four to five times higher than in 2015, which will cut dependence on fossil fuels. In fact, electricity will meet 90% of the energy demand in 2050, compared to fossil fuels meeting 89% of the energy demand in 2015.

South Asian countries, including India, will have a world record share of 95% solar photovoltaic electricity generation by 2050, according to estimates by the study. In Eurasia, onshore wind energy generation will be among the highest worldwide.

The study also suggests that a global energy system dependent completely on renewable energy will be cheaper than the current system, falling from an approximately 54€/megawatt hour (MWh) in 2015 to 53€/MWh by 2050. This transition will lead to a decline in annual global greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector from 30 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2eq) in 2015 to zero by 2050.

“The study’s results show that all countries can and should accelerate the current Paris Climate Agreement targets,” said Christian Breyer, professor for Solar Economy at Finland’s LUT. “A transition to 100% clean, renewable energies are very realistic – even today, with the technologies currently available.”

“The report shows that it’s technically and financially possible to transition to 100% renewable energy for all the sectors, especially when the costs are comparable to conventional energy systems. However, there need to be enough safeguards to manage variability and the scale of deployment of these technologies, which will be critical to manage costs,” said Karan Mangotra, associate director and climate specialist at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).

“The sectors which are harder to abate will find it challenging to go 100% renewable. The report, however, does give a direction that any country on the verge of making decisions on energy systems should look at investments in renewable energy,” said Mangotra.

Heat supply in 2050 will be dominated by heat pumps (to move heat from one place to another using a compressor). The study also talks about synthetically produced gas and fuels to meet energy needs, transport and heating.

“The study shows that the whole world can make the transition to a zero-emission energy system. That is why all political powers around the world can and should do much more to protect our climate than they currently envision,” said Hans-Josef Fell, the former member of the German Parliament and president of the Energy Watch Group.

The study is significant because the community of climate scientists has been calling for such an unprecedented transition. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s “Global Warming of 1.5 degree C” report had said that countries have to make unprecedented transitions in all sectors to avoid devastating consequences of climate change and keep global warming within 1.5 degrees over pre-industrial levels. Commitments to cut down carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, submitted by 195 nations under the Paris agreement, will fail to keep global warming under 1.5 degree, the report had said.

Researchers have recommended enabling direct private investment in renewable energy, feed-in tariff (fixed prices to be paid to all renewable energy generators) laws, phase-out of all state subsidies to fossil fuel, and nuclear energy generation and the introduction of carbon and radioactivity taxes to enable such a transition.

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