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A 100% renewable energy future – what’s the reality?
Saturday, May 11, 2019
A renewable future is a global concern.
Countries from all over the world are now stepping up and pushing towards a 100% renewable future.
From Iceland and Paraguay, which are leading the way with 100% of their energy already coming from renewable sources to China the world’s largest polluter now owning five of the world’s six largest solar-module manufacturing firms.
Other countries leading the way in the renewable movement include:
- Cost Rica (99%)
- Norway (98.5%)
- Austria (80%)
- Brazil (75%)
- Denmark (69.4%)
The Major Barriers We Need to Overcome
There has, however, been much debate over whether it’s even feasible to have an electric grid running on 100% renewable energy all the time.
In order for a country to achieve a 100% renewable energy future, there are a number of economic, political and technological issues they must consider.
All economic activity entails energy usage. As we shift from the use of fossil fuels to renewable energy our economy will have to evolve and adapt.
A substantial investment is required in order to implement renewable energy on such a large scale. It will require large investments in grid storage, transmission to distribute power and to smooth out the issues of intermittency.
Some sceptics have raised concerns about the global economic ramifications that could occur if the use of renewable energy continues to rise.
Michael Kelly from Cambridge University suggested that the energy return on investment (EROI) for renewables is much lower than fossil fuels. Claiming if we use them to power half the world’s electricity there would be less energy free to power other types of economic activity.
However, on the other side of the argument, renewable energy can be seen to have huge advantages on the economy of many countries.
CleanTechnica reported that solar employment grew 17 times faster than the US economy in 2016. With 260,000 people being employed in the solar industry in the US as of 2017 and over 10,000 people with jobs in the wind industry.
There is no denying that fuel is enormously useful and valuable, however, the continued use of fossil fuels is not sustainable and could end up having much larger economic consequences if we don’t prepare for the inevitable switch to renewable energy.
The energy crisis is not going to be solved without a lot of social action combined with government support. Rising energy costs and the unavoidable evidence of climate change are finally making global leaders stand up and provide funding for alternative energies.
Although fossil fuels have provided us with a relatively cheap energy source, it has not come without serious geopolitical ramifications. Oil has been the cause of many wars and the problems are only going to deepen as the oil supplies start to deplete and oil-hungry nations become desperate and willing to fight for it.
Whilst switching to renewable energy won’t solve these issues, it will allow countries to withdraw valuable resources such as human, material and financial to put them to better use within one’s own country and reduce the risk to human life.
The political obstacles each country would endure when faced with a 100% renewable future would differ greatly depending on the political stability of that country.
There cannot, therefore, be one simple or overall solution to combat the political challenges of renewable energy on a global scale.
The basic challenges that need to be overcome in each country include the creation of the regulatory framework, setting standards and offering incentives to economies to make a significant shift in their energy usage to renewables.
It has been argued that the main drawback of wind and solar, the leading renewable resources, is that they run intermittently depending on weather conditions.
The intermittent nature of the systems poses an issue due to the grid being designed on the basis of large, controllable electric generators. The grid currently has very little storage capacity, meaning the balance between electricity supply and demand must be maintained at all times.
There have been significant technological advancements in recent years, however, that could lessen the effects of intermittent renewable energy production.
An example being the development of new hybrid solar panels that can harness energy from raindrops and therefore be effective during day and night. It seems renewable technologies are evolving rapidly as the demand for a renewable future becomes more apparent.
Whilst renewable energy technologies may currently be more unpredictable and unstable than that of fossil fuels, they do not have an expiry date or the harmful side effects associated with the production of fossil fuels. They are, therefore, establishing themselves as a necessary part of the world’s future.
What Are the Next Steps Towards a Renewable Future?
There is no fast and easy solution to overcome these issues, the best chance we have of achieving a renewable future is raising our voices and making our desire for more renewable energy sources known.
Although there are currently many obstacles in the way, the fact countries are already managing to run off 100 percent renewable energy for sustained periods of time shows it is possible.
Fossil fuels are finite and it is not a question of if our global supply will run out but when it will happen. It is predicted that the world can survive off fossil fuels for another 50 to 100 years, however, whether our environment will be able to take the impacts of climate change for that extended period of time is unknown.
We have a reached a pivotal point in the energy crisis, how our communities and global leaders act now will define the future of our planet.