Is 100% Renewable Global Energy Feasible?
You have probably heard someone say that we can meet 100 % of our energy needs with renewable energy today, implying that the only reason we don’t is because:
- we lack effective political leadership,
- the fossil fuel industry is too rich and powerful,
- we need to wait for the price of renewable energy to come down, or
- (fill in your own favorite reason).
There are nuggets of truth in all of this, but it would be better to change the statement to read:
If we choose to, we can meet 100% of our energy needs with renewable energy using the technology that exists today. We do not need to wait for technological breakthroughs, and we can achieve this goal without destabilizing the economy. Pursuing this goal may even boost the economy. We just need to commit to making it happen.
So, where did this idea originate and how can we know if this is true? Is there any evidence that this is more than wishful thinking?
In 2008 Al Gore gave a speech in which he proposed a 10 year goal of producing 100% of America’s energy needs using renewable sources.
In the speech he said:
“Scientists have confirmed that enough solar energy falls on the surface of the earth every 40 minutes to meet 100 percent of the entire world’s energy needs for a full year. Tapping just a small portion of this solar energy could provide all of the electricity America uses.”
“And enough wind power blows through the Midwest corridor every day to also meet 100 percent of US electricity demand. Geothermal energy, similarly, is capable of providing enormous supplies of electricity for America”
Then he issued a challenge.
“Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.
This goal is achievable, affordable and transformative. It represents a challenge to all Americans — in every walk of life: to our political leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, engineers, and to every citizen.”
The entire speech is available HERE.
Since then several groups have researched the topic and have concluded that the goal of meeting 100% of the global energy needs is possible and can be achieved by 2050.
THE ENERGY REPORT
The World Wildlife Fund in conjunction with ECOFYS released a report in 2011 that describes how the world can supply 95% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2050.
The Energy Report is not about predictions. It’s about articulating an ambitious pathway towards a possible, positive future – taking into account the necessity to act rapidly and decisively on climate change. It is realistic in its conservative approach, its reliance only on existing technologies, and its clear identification of the challenges ahead.
It is also optimistic, because it shows that with manageable effort, we can transform our energy system in a third industrial revolution for the benefit of all. It finds that by utilizing today’s technologies alone, 95% of all energy can be renewable by 2050, comfortable lifestyles can be developed and sustained and long-term benefits can outweigh short-term costs.
Click HERE for more information and to download a copy of the report.
PROVIDING ALL GLOBAL ENERGY WITH WIND, WATER, AND SOLAR POWER
In 2009 Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi of Stanford University published a paper in two parts showing how we can reach 100% renewable power globally by 2030.
The article abstract states:
“Climate change, pollution, and energy insecurity are among the greatest problems of our time. Addressing them requires major changes in our energy infrastructure. Here, we analyze the feasibility of providing worldwide energy for all purposes (electric power, transportation, heating/cooling, etc.) from wind, water, and sunlight (WWS). In Part I, we discuss WWS energy system characteristics, current and future energy demand, availability of WWS resources, numbers of WWS devices, and area and material requirements. In Part II, we address variability, economics, and policy of WWS energy.”
“We suggest producing all new energy with WWS by 2030 and replacing the pre-existing energy by 2050. Barriers to the plan are primarily social and political, not technological or economic. The energy cost in a WWS world should be similar to that today.”
This paper was later published in the journal Energy Policy. The entire paper is available in .pdf format for downloading. Download part 1 HERE, and part 2 HERE.
RENEWABLE ELECTRICITY FUTURES STUDY
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Renewable Electricity Futures Study (RE Futures) is an initial investigation of the extent to which renewable energy supply can meet the electricity demands of the continental United States over the next several decades. RE Futures, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, is a collaboration with more than 110 contributors from 35 organizations including national laboratories, industry, universities, and non-governmental organizations.
The study is more narrowly focused on electricity generation and is limited to the United States. Because it is supported by the USDOE, and draws from many contributors the conclusions appear to be stated conservatively.
One of the key findings is:
“Renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the country.”
Much more information about the study can be found on the NREL website HERE.
The critical questions are:
- Is 2050 is soon enough to avoid catastrophic damage to the atmosphere, and therefore to life on Earth.
- What is preventing us from achieving the goal by 2030?
- What do each of us need to do to accelerate the shift to 100% renewable energy?