energy

Most of the world could be powered by renewable energy

Here in Britain, solar power is much more effective in the summer. The days are longer, and in mid summer solar PV produces five times as much energy as mid winter. Inconveniently, we also need more energy in winter, to heat our homes or to light them on those longer nights. Wind power picks up some of the slack, but we still need rely on fossil fuels to get us through the colder, darker periods of the year.

From a British perspective, it’s hard to imagine that solar power could run the world. But that’s what commentators like Jeremy Leggett or Chris Goodall suggest. Wild variations in light levels happen the further North or South you go, and the world’s population is concentrated in the middle. Most of the world doesn’t need to worry about solar being ineffective for half the year. It can provide what they need all year round.

With the price of solar panels falling so sharply in recent years, and batteries set to follow, most of the world’s population could rely on solar power, with wind and hydro power picking up the rest.

That claim was reinforced recently by a Stanford-led study that looked at the energy needs for 139 countries, and discovered that every one of them could run on 100% renewable energy by 2050. The exact energy mix varies for each country, but solar provides the majority. That’s for all energy use too, it’s worth noting – not just electricity. Transport would be electrified, and because electric forms of transport are more efficient, the amount of energy we need falls and that makes it easier to hit that 100% target.

A global shift to clean energy like this would keep climate change within 1.5 degrees of warming, save millions of deaths a year from air pollution, and be a net creator of jobs. Spread the word – a full transition to renewable energy is possible, and it has multiple benefits.

You can read more here.

 

12 comments

  1. This is great and justifies my faith in human inventiveness in solving ecological problems
    I remember a few years ago you were saying that we couldn’t hope to decouple our economy from CO2 and that we would have to dramatically cut our energy use to have any hope of avoiding a 2C of warming. You didn’t predict fracking and the US transition of gas or the huge falls in solar or battery prices. Pessimism sells but I hope you can see why I’m an optimist.

    1. The problem has never been technology, but policy. This is a demonstration of the possible, but until all of those countries actually pursue and deliver that 100% renewable energy, it doesn’t get us very far. We’re going to need that human inventiveness a lot more yet, in the areas of policy, dismantling fossil fuels and their power structures, and yes – cutting energy use, which is a key part of the strategy here.

      You don’t know me very well if you think I’m a pessimist, but you have been reading this blog for long enough to know that I’ve been tracking the falling prices of renewable energy for years.

        1. I’ve never claimed to be able to predict the future. What I have written about, in some detail, is the long expected moment of grid parity as the price of solar and other renewables falls. And in contrast, the declining economics of fossil fuels.

          1. With respect, that has been only recently. Earlier you were all about the negawats and that we need to cut our energy use. And you were pretty certain we had no hope of decoupling growth from CO2 which does appear to be happening now.

            It is always good to stand and look back to see what you can learn from all the passing fads that were such a crisis apparently that have now gone, to inform your judgement on the next ‘Big Crisis of our Time’

  2. I twigged the potential for cheaper solar panels when campaigning for the introduction of a feed-in tariff. That was under a Labour government. Had I failed to predict the falling price of solar before then? Yes. But that was quite some time ago.

    Reducing energy use is still important. Look at the report in this post. It is predicated in greater efficiency. No change of tack there. The jury is still out on decoupling, but the maths doesn’t look good and there are no long term examples of strong economic growth and absolute decoupling. I very much hope to be wrong, and I’ll gladly take your ‘I told you so’ should the maths change.

    As for crises, that’s an overused word. The things I’m reporting on are for the most part decades-long transitions. They are shifting and evolving, and as circumstances change I update my views.

    1. Decoupling isn’t looking too bad.

      https://qz.com/791865/climate-change-charting-the-extraordinary-decoupling-between-gdp-and-carbon-emissions/

      The efficiency that report is predicated on is purely from the change over to more efficient generation, transmission and the replacement of non electrical devices with more efficient electrical ones. It doesn’t require the reduction in lighting, heating and travel that negawats enthusiast called for.

  3. This isn’t news to me. I’ve dealt with this very clearly before, and you can read the arguments in more detail in the link below. In summary – yes, some countries show decoupling, and a handful even show absolute decoupling. That’s great news. The relevant questions are these: 1) is is happening fast enough to avoid dangerous climate change? 2) Given that we want infinite economic growth, can this decoupling be sustained indefinitely into the future? The answer to both of those questions is currently no.
    https://makewealthhistory.org/2016/04/19/is-global-decoupling-underway/

    PS – perhaps you could spell out your problem with energy efficiency. Apparently British houses waste £1 in every £3 spent on gas. Even the best combustion engines waste over half their energy as heat. A lot of cutting energy use is just eliminating waste. When I say we need to reduce our energy use, it’s through insulation or electric vehicles, not inviting people to shiver in the dark. There are multiple benefits and I don’t see why this is remotely controversial.

    1. My problem with the ‘energy efficiency’ is not general efficiency but the plans that various environmentalists have put out, some of which have been promoted here, that do demand reductions in living standards. Not smarter, but hair shirts.

  4. As far as I’m concerned I’ve never promoted a hair shirt approach to anything, but I’m aware that others might hear things differently. I’m reporting on a broad movement. I’ve covered proponents of radical voluntary simplicity, but also perspectives such as ecomodernism that argue for more energy use. I recommend reading and learning from all sides, and the balance is going to fall somewhere in-between.

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