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World could go 100% renewable by 2050 for net economic gain

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Whether or not last week’s unceremonious changing of the guard in Canberra will shift Australia’s political debate on renewables from bickering over costs, to developing sensible policy for growth, remains to be seen.

But a new report released by Greenpeace International on Monday has reinforced the view that there are no major economic or technical barriers to shifting the world to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050; nor to the complete phase-out of fossil fuels. All we need now is the political will to do it.

Greenpeace’s Energy [R]evolution scenario 2015 phases out coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy as fast as technically and economically possible, by expanding the renewable energy share to 42 per cent in 2030, 72 per cent in 2040 and 100 per cent in 2050.

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The only remaining use for fossil fuels, says the report, would be in the non-energy sector, such as petrochemicals and steel making.

Of course, the transition will not come cheaply. As you can see in the chart below, there is a lot to be done, and according to, the costs will be “huge” at around $US1 trillion a year. But the analysis also shows that the savings are even bigger.

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“The investment costs for the switch to 100% renewables by 2050 is about $US1 trillion a year,” the report says.

“But because renewable energies don’t need fuel, the average fuel cost savings are $US1.07 trillion a year.  So the investment over the period is met in full (107 per cent) by fuel cost savings, with the cross-over happening between 2025 and 2030.

Beyond 2050, there are no further fuel costs in renewable energy, thus stabilising energy costs for socities, as well as reducing energy sector emissions to near zero.

So it is not only achievable by 2050, according to Greenpeace’s analysis, but affordable, cost competitive, a net job creator and would bring a huge cut in global emissions.

You can see in the table below how this plays out under Greenpeace’s scenario, as compared to the International Energy Agency’s “Current Policies” scenario.

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A large part of the report focuses on the global power generation sector, which it notes has been the most dynamic, with a renewables comprising 60 per cent of new generation world wide in 2014, despite energy subsidies still being “weighted heavily in favour of fossil fuels.”

According to the report, the  transformation  to  a  carbon  free  100%  renewable energy  system  in  the  Advanced  Energy [R]evolution scenario – Greenpeace’s optimum scenario – will increase global electricity demand in 2050
to more than 40,000 TWh/a from about 18,860 TWh/a in 2012.

“Electricity will become the major renewable ‘primary’ energy, not only for direct use for various  purposes but also for the generation of synthetic fuels for fossil fuels substitution,” says the report.

Around  8,100 TWh are used in 2050 for electric vehicles and rail transport, around 5,100 TWh for hydrogen and 3,600 TWh for synthetic liquid fuel generation for the transport sector.

The report notes that the transition from fossil fuels to renewable electricity – either directly or via synthetic fuels – for the entire global transport sector “is one of  the most difficult parts of the Energy [R]evolution and requires a true technical revolution.

“It is ambitious but nevertheless possible with currently available technologies for land-based and other transport,” the report says.

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It also finds that more jobs would be created in the energy sector by this shift – with

the solar industry alone employing as many people in the future as the coal industry does today.

According to the data, the solar PV industry would employ 9.7 million people by 2030, more than 10 times as many as it does today. Jobs in wind power would grow to 7.8 million over the same period.

The report also details the major changes that will have to take place in the world’s energy markets; mostly in the structure of its grids, as they shift from being centralised systems based on large baseload energy generation plants, to decentralised systems, making the most of multiple sources of rooftop solar, wind energy and large-scale solar, as well as geothermal and hydro.

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  • Wolfgang Loescher

    I don’t understand why people forecasting to the year 2050. Most of them can’t get the next 5 to 10 years right. Throwing big numbers around may look impressive but means little to nothing. The way technology is going who knows what is in store in the next 5 years. There a lot of changes coming up in the energy sector and quicker then most people think.
    On a side note, most of the solar installations will be paid for by the consumer themselves and with batteries becoming more affordable new fairer business models need to be worked out.

    • nakedChimp

      Greenpeace was the organization who got the projection for PV/Wind uptake at least somewhat right.. any other shop underestimated it badly.
      So if they put out a visionary scenario that goes to 2050 and talks about 100% RE for everything is possible, doesn’t cost more than BAU and doesn’t create any nett job losses once the dust has settled one should at least take note.

      Conclusio: Greenpeace was right already, so their projection has a very high credibility.

      • Wolfgang Loescher

        The point i tried to make is that we won’t have to wait for the year 2050 to be 100% renewable as it will be here a lot sooner people think.
        You are also right that new jobs will be created and will offset the losses of old jobs.
        Who knows where we at in 2050. My guess is it will vastly different to what we think today

        • Bob_Wallace

          The way I read it is Greenpeace is saying that getting to zero carbon by 2050 is feasible and affordable using the technology we have today. You are suggesting we could get there significantly sooner.

          I understand what they are saying and, as well, agree with you. I think that we’re going to see wind and solar accelerate hugely over the next few years, bringing their costs down further and further.

          I expect that ten years out it won’t make sense to repair a broken coal plant if the cost is more than pocket change. Cheaper to just install more renewables. Perhaps even sooner it will make no sense to burn natural gas if there’s a possibility of accessing wind or solar. And dropping storage costs will eat further and further into NG’s market share.

          At the same time concern over climate change is likely to grow. A larger percentage of our populations will have experienced extreme weather and many of the old duffers who take the denier stance will have died off. Most deniers seem to be older white men exposed to Murdoch media. Even Murdoch will die off and I understand his heirs are concerned about climate change.

          Health concerns are likely to play a very large role over the coming years. People are really starting to understand how fossil fuel pollution impacts their health and bank account. Once they realize that there is a reasonably priced alternative that can fill their grids without also fill the air they breathe there is likely going to be large pressure to curtail coal and oil.

          Look for people in India and China to be in the streets, demanding clean air.

          And what will we invent over the next 10, 20 years? Even higher capacity solar panels? Extremely likely. More reasonable ways to harvest energy from waves, tides and deep Earth heat? Possible. Cheaper and higher capacity batteries? Almost certain. Cheap EVs? Yep.

          All these factors will be ‘drivers’. They’ll speed up the rate at which we abandon fossil fuels.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Cheap EVs.

            Here’s a page of 15 low cost gasmobiles for sale in the US. Some of them would make fine commuter/small family cars. Priced from about $12k to $16k.

            http://autocontentexp.com/15-least-expensive-new-cars-of-2015/

            Take a look at the Nissan Versa. $12k gets you – ” a comfortable ride, decent cargo space and rear-seat legroom” and AC. By the time the price moves to $15k you’re getting power windows and door locks and all sorts of good stuff.

            In another conversation someone stated that about 40% of the cost of a new car goes to engine and support systems (fuel, cooling, exhaust). That would make an engine-less Versa between $7,200 and $9,000.

            Frequent speculation about the price of Tesla’s battery packs once the Gigafactory is running is $130 to $150/kWh.

            40 kWh should give a Versa EV a range of about 150 miles/240 km. That’s plenty for people who take few really long trips per year. Which is likely most people shopping for an inexpensive new car.

            40 kWh at $150/kWh is $6k Add in a couple thou for electric motor and controller. Now we’re at $15,200 to $17,000 for a new, moderate range EV. And it’s going to offer a smoother, quieter ride with a lot more acceleration than its gasmobile sister.

            Now I could have made a logic or math error, but if not I’m seeing very affordable EVs in our near future. All that’s needed is for some company to build their battery factory.

            Or even better, purchase from Panasonic/Tesla and buy into their Supercharger system. In their wildest fantasies I don’t think anyone at Tesla dreams of Tesla being the only car manufacturer in the world. Why not partner up with other companies and sell them batteries, a charging network, and EV expertise?

          • Wolfgang Loescher

            Go to YouTube and watch Tony Seba. You will love it. Tesla model S has already a range of 300 to 450 km. Just the price tag is still a bit much.
            But within the next few years the prices will come back and he suggests as much as low 20k range.

          • Wolfgang Loescher

            You are spot on that renewable will be taken up at an increasing rate as the price drops. In some place it is already cheaper to install solar then to use the grid.
            Go to YouTube and watch Tony Seba on disruptive technologies.

            As for batteries, have a look at liquid metal battery technology. If there claim comes to be true then we be looking at a storage price for energy of around $100 or less per Kwh with a life time of 300 plus years to reach 80% degradation for a battery. Cycle to full down and 100% with no harm to the battery. They working on putting it in modules so they can be sized in whatever consumers need. Many others will also work on getting the price down to that level in order to compete and get a piece of the action.

            Anyone who things it will take a long time for the change to come will be in for a shock.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Ambri stumbled a bit with their liquid metal battery. The material they intended to use to seal their cells hasn’t worked out so they’ll be, at least, delayed getting to market.

            But even without Ambri we should have battery storage for around $100/kWh to use for grid stabilization and we’ve always got pump-up hydro for huge capacity at excellent costs.

          • Wolfgang Loescher

            I think you are right in saying that. Ambri will overcome the little setback as they have a good team of young people doing the research.
            Others will aim for the same $100/Kwh storage price and long lasting reliability.

          • wideEyedPupil

            It’s true that previous Greenpeace projections have put IEA, EIA and many others to shame. But I agree that the 2050 language is worth questioning. That is a tomorrowland problem. If Western Governments typically only look 1 to 5 years ahead, that’s like somebody else’s problem, some other generations problem even.

            And there’s plenty of evidence to say that just solarPV and wind deployment can meet much more ambitious targets than ~100% RE by 2050, even with the electrification of heating, all land transport and industrial processes that are currently dependant on fossil fuels. The long-term deployment trend of the last three decades suggests that many countries could their have maximum daytime capacity peaks met by solar and an hour or so of storage at that capacity. Solar in Australia has tapered in the last four years and growth is now linear (or less), but with ambitious targets, FiTs and other incentives, deployment could approach the international two year doubling again.

  • Mike Dill

    My house will be 95% renewable by 2017. My primary car will be an EV, and I expect that it will charge primarily on RE by 2020. 100% for 70% of the population by 2030 seems very reasonable.

    • Wolfgang Loescher

      I think you are on the right track with your assumptions.

  • MaxG

    Corporations will flock a dead horse if it makes a profit before changing and innovating — short-sightedness and zero care factor make this behaviour possible.
    Also I second the assumptions that Greenpeace’ numbers stack up.

  • Diego Matter

    “The costs will be “huge” at around $US 1 trillion a year”

    On the other hand the IMF says worldwide $US 5.3 trillion are paid annually as fossil fuel subsidies.

    So honestly, where is the problem?

    $US 4.3 trillion annually can then be paid to buy out corrupt fossil fuel executives and bought politicians, retiring power plants, remediation of coal mines and retrain the work force.

    Or better make it $US 3 trillion annually for the transition and only 2.3 trillion for the executives and workers and the rest. This will speed up the transition threefold and we will get to 100% renewables by 2027!
    Everyone has kept its job and isn’t on the looser side. Win, win all over.

    This provoking simple math is another reason why the whole problem is just political!

    A lot of people have something to loose, that is the real reason only marginal things are happening. And people don’t like change, at least that’s what I learned working in project management.

    • Bob_Wallace

      You pretty much nailed down. A global benevolent dictator with the skills to think rationally would create platinum, diamond encrusted parachutes for the top people in the fossil fuel industry and create great jobs for the ‘workers’, giving them a very sweet bonus to make up for disturbing their daily routine while they changed jobs. Shareholders would be given equal value shares in renewable energy companies, shares pretty much guaranteed to grow in place of their fossil fuel shares that are in the process of going sour.

      She would plow a bunch of money into renewable installation (low cost loans are probably the only assistance needed now) and smooth out all the red tape stuff as much as possible.

      We’d be off fossil fuels within 20 years and be saving trillions of dollars every year.

      • Diego Matter

        … disturbing their daily routine… 🙂 Simple human beings we all are!

        And you`re right, I forgot the share holders!