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100% global renewable electricity more cost-effective than current system

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Cleantechnica

Making a global transition to a 100% renewable electricity grid has long been a dream of many, but new research published by the Lappeenranta University of Technology has proven it is no longer just a dream but a viable reality — a reality that is more cost-effective than the current fossil fuel-reliant system.

Presented on Wednesday during the Global Renewable Energy Solutions Showcase event (GRESS) on the sidelines of the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP23 in Bonn, Germany, the new study — Global Energy System based on 100% Renewable Energy – Power Sector — was conducted by the Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and the Energy Watch Group (EWG).

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Many might already be aware of the work being done by LUT, investigating the potential of 100% renewable electricity grids based on its own modeling work — modeling which “computes the cost-optimal mix of technologies based on locally available renewable energy sources for the world structured in 145 regions and calculates the most cost-effective energy transition pathway for electricity supply on an hourly resolution for an entire reference year.”

The University has already published results which highlight the potential case for a 100% Russia & Central Asia by 2030; a 100% South America by 2030; a 100% Iran & Middle East by 2030; India by 2050; and its biggest accomplishment, a successful model of a 100% renewable energy planetary system.

The new study, however, makes the case that 100% renewable electricity is not just a far-off possibility, but a potential current-day reality — given the right political conditions.

The technologies already exist, according to the authors of the study who claim that existing renewable energy potential and technologies (including storage) can already generate sufficient and secure power to cover the entire global electricity demand by 2050.

This would result in a levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) on a global average for 100% renewable electricity in 2050 of €52($60)/MWh (including curtailment, storage and some grid costs), compared to €70($81)/MWh in 2015.

A transition along these lines would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector down to zero as well as drastically reduce total losses in power generation. Finally, the transition would result in 36 million jobs by 2050 — 17 million more than today.

“A full decarbonization of the electricity system by 2050 is possible for lower system cost than today based on available technology,” explained Christian Breyer, lead author of the study, LUT Professor of Solar Economy and Chairman of the EWG Scientific Board. “Energy transition is no longer a question of technical feasibility or economic viability, but of political will.”

The transition would be driven by solar PV and battery storage, with solar PV accounting for 69% of the total 2050 energy mix followed by wind with 18%, hydropower with 8%, and bioenergy with 2%.

Electricity generation from renewables in 2015 and 2050. In 2050, nuclear power still accounts for negligible 0.3% of the total electricity generation, due to the end of its assumed technical life, but could be phased out earlier

Electricity generation from renewables in 2015 and 2050. In 2050, nuclear power still accounts for negligible 0.3% of the total electricity generation, due to the end of its assumed technical life, but could be phased out earlier

The figures look a little different by 2030, with wind accounting for 32% of the global energy mix, but post-2030 LUT expects solar to become more competitive and take up the slack, increasing its share from 37% in 2030 to around 69% in 2050.

”There is no reason to invest one more Dollar in fossil or nuclear power production,” added EWG President Hans-Josef Fell.

“Renewable energy provides cost-effective power supply. All plans for a further expansion of coal, nuclear, gas and oil have to be ceased. More investments need to be channeled in renewable energies and the necessary infrastructure for storage and grids. Everything else will lead to unnecessary costs and increasing global warming.”

The key findings (PDF) as laid out in the study are as follows:

  • Existing renewable energy potential and technologies, including storage can generate sufficient and secure power to cover the entire global electricity demand by 2050. The world population is expected to grow from 7.3 to 9.7 billion. The global electricity demand for the power sector is set to increase from 24,310 TWh in 2015 to around 48,800 TWh by 2050.
  • Total levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) on a global average for 100% renewable electricity in 2050 is €52/MWh (including curtailment, storage and some grid costs), compared to €70/MWh in 2015.
  • Due to rapidly falling costs, solar PV and battery storage increasingly drive most of the electricity system, with solar PV reaching some 69%, wind energy 18%, hydropower 8% and bioenergy 2% of the total electricity mix in 2050 globally.
  • Wind energy increases to 32% by 2030. Beyond 2030 solar PV becomes more competitive. The solar PV supply share increases from 37% in 2030 to about 69% in 2050.
  • Batteries are the key supporting technology for solar PV. The storage output covers 31% of the total demand in 2050, 95% of which is covered by batteries alone. Battery storage provides mainly diurnal storage, and renewable energy based gas provides seasonal storage.
  • Global greenhouse gas emissions significantly reduce from about 11 GtCO2eqin 2015 to zero emissions by 2050 or earlier, as the total LCOE of the power system.
  • The global energy transition to a 100% renewable electricity system creates 36 million jobs by 2050 in comparison to 19 million jobs in the 2015 electricity system.
  • The total losses in a 100% renewable electricity system are around 26% of the total electricity demand, compared to the current system in which about 58% of the primary energy input is lost.

Source: Cleantechnica. Reproduced with permission.  

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  • Joe

    Just do it.

    • Ren Stimpy

      There will still be some coal, oil, nuclear and gas fuels even in 2050 and beyond. Metalliferous coal for steel making, oil for the aviation and shipping industries, nuclear for the cold extreme northern countries and gas for industrial processes.

      Fair dinkum, 100% is extremely optimistic over-reach. Now, 70% renewable energy is a lot closer to the reality, and that will more or less end the climate change escalation.

      But why they went for the impractical and stupid overreach of 100% is another article of its own.

      • John Saint-Smith

        I’m afraid your assumption of a peak of 70% renewables, implying that 30% of energy is still sourced from fossil fuels, will bring an end to CO2 accumulations in the atmosphere is incorrect.
        1. Assuming current emission levels for comparison, 30% is about 14 billion tonnes of CO2 per annum, similar to total global CO2 emissions in the 1970s when global warming began to accelerate.
        2. Assumption 1 is wildly unrealistic. With many 3rd world economies developing, global energy demand is expected to double by 2050. That would mean 30% would become 28 billion tonnes per year, which would mean accumulating CO2 would be certain to be driving the climate towards unstoppable natural feedbacks.
        The minimum response by 2050 must be negative 20% emissions, in an attempt to bring the level of CO2 in the atmosphere to less dangerous levels.around 350 ppm

        • Ren Stimpy

          20% fossil fuels, 10% nuclear (no emissions) and 70% renewables. Assuming current emission levels, 20% is about 9 billion tonnes of CO2 per year. My thoughts on that,- we will need to offset it by incentivising or compensating tropical South American and South-east Asian countries to let their rain forests regrow in the vast areas that have been logged or burned down in the past few decades.

          On global energy demand, energy efficiency improvements are starting to catch up to, and should soon surpass, the factors which increase demand such as population growth and the rise of the middle class in developing countries. When you think about it, the efficiency measures – for example LED lighting – which exist in our current overall suite of efficiency measures are mostly only a small step into total deployment, and new efficiency measures are being added to that suite all the time.

      • neroden

        Actually:

        — we’ve figured out how to get nearly all the coal out of the steel industry and the transition is slowly proceeding. Use hydrogen as the reducing agent to make DRI, and an electric arc furnace to make steel.
        — short-range aviation is going electric already
        — it’s straightfoward to make shipping electric; it’s been prevented largely because the lack of regulations on pollution in international waters make burning bunker fuel very cheap. This requires a policy change but is trivial technically.
        — long-range aviation is a small enough niche that it can be supported by biofuels, probably in a hybrid drivetrain with batteries for takeoff; but as batteries get better, it’ll probably go 100% electric too.
        — natural gas as an *industrial feedstock* will probably remain — a tiny fraction of current usage — but as a *fuel* it will be cheaper to use electric heating, even in industrial processes.

        • Ren Stimpy

          Does electric arc furnace steel making have an established cost curve? I need to read up on that one a bit further. Every major change is driven by cost. Carbon fiber materials can substitute for a lot of steel but the question is would that reduce emissions? Carbon fiber makes plenty of sense for substitute parts in transport machinery to save weight, but as stationary items such as fence posts or park benches they would have to establish a trend for lower costs and emissions in manufacture.

          Electric aviation is promising but for prop planes only. The big game in aviation emissions is jet engine aircraft. Biofuels are promising, but they have issues in cold temperatures, and again they simply won’t replace standard jet fuels if there is no cost advantage. Biofuels in shipping, same issues – cost and problems in the cold climates.

          Emissions from industry/industrial processes are about 14% of total emissions, not exactly a tiny fraction. Natural gas as an industrial feedstock will not just remain in this sector but increase as it replaces other high emissions or lower efficiency fuels such as oil and coal.

  • BsrKr11

    What about liquid fuels?

    • neroden

      What about them? Liquid fuels will be used by hobbyists for their collectible antique cars and planes, produced in small artisanal batches.

      Obviously transport will mostly be battery-based.

  • neroden

    This actually looks right. Finally. This is the sort of model I’ve been using for several years.