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Most energy experts say 100% renewables is feasible, realistic

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Most energy experts surveyed for a study on the future of the world’s energy supply consider a global transition to 100 per cent renewable energy to be both feasible and realistic.

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There is an overwhelming consensus among the experts we interviewed that renewable power will dominate in the futureeven with rising global energy demand,” said Dr Sven Teske, at the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures in Sydney – who conducted the survey on behalf of the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21stCentury (REN21).

“The question is not if we can achieve the transition to renewables, but when.”

The survey of 114 energy experts from around the world found a clear delineation between the “perceived” attitudes towards 100 per cent renewables.

Those energy experts considered “progressive” were all convinced that 100 per cent renewables is achievable, those considered “moderate” thought that 100 per cent is overly ambitious but renewables will make up a significant share, and those considered “conservative” thought that renewables will still only be a small share of energy by 2050.

Given that mix of perceived attitudes, it’s encouraging that the main finding from the report is that 71 per cent of the experts interviewed consider a global transition to 100 per cent renewable energy both feasible and realistic, with European and Australian experts most strongly supporting this view,” Teske said.

His other main takeaway is that nearly 70 per cent of those interviewed expect the cost of renewables to continue to fall, beating all fossil fuels within 10 years’ time.
Given the long planning and construction time of fossil fuel projects – new coal-fired power plants need around five to seven years – most fossil fuel infrastructure projects will be uneconomic by the time they are ready to produce energy. New fossil fuel projects are most likely to be stranded assets and dead at arrival, Dr Teske said.

The survey found that more than 90 per cent of the experts interviewed agree that renewable energy technologies serve to lower the barrier for communities to gain access to energy services. An estimated 100 million people now receive electricity via distributed renewable energy systems, and markets for such systems are growing rapidly.

Arthouros Zervos, the chair of REN21, said that the outlook for renewable energy had changed rapidly since the organisation had been founded in 2004.

“Back then, no one could have imagined that in 2016, renewable energy would account for 86 per cent of all new EU power installations; China would become the renewable energy powerhouse of the world; and more than half of global renewable energy investment would take place in emerging economies and developing countries,” he said in a statement.

“Calls then for 100 per cent renewable energy were not taken seriously; today the world’s leading energy experts are engaged in rational discussions about its feasibility, and in what time frame.”

  

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  • Brunel

    Why do people keep talking about 100% renewable when we have not even got the interconnector right.

    When the ALP would rather build 12 submarines in SA than high speed rail that can be powered by renewable electricity rather than jet fuel.

    • solarguy

      You mean the LNP.

      • Brunel

        I doubt the ALP said no to the 12 subs.

        • Roger Brown

          LNP have been running down the country for over 4 years , “It’s ALL LABOR’S FAULT ” has stopped working , just like Jobs and Growth ,they are lazy and incompetent and no good with money , all Half a TRILLION $.

          • Brunel

            “Chris Bowen repeatedly refused to say on Sunday whether Labor would keep the company tax cut.”

            “the government’s chief economic spokesmen said Labor should make clear whether, if it won the next election, it would repeal the tax cut and lift the rate back up to 30 per cent”

            You see, Dan Andrews said he would rip up the East West Link contract if he wins the election – and yeah, he won. (got my vote too).

            It is called having a spine and standing for something.

  • trackdaze

    Technically feasable.
    Best to focus on getting the first 50% much sooner.

    The issue with such talk is it spooks the horses and gets many offside.

    • Rod

      Although time is of the essence, I agree.
      Have a SMART goal and work towards it but review and upgrade it as you hit interim targets.

  • brucelee

    It would be interesting to see the projected tax losses due to DOA projects, and stranded assets. That might get the Conservatives moving..

  • solarguy

    Since 2007 I knew that 100% RE was achievable, when I was half way through my RE studies at TAFE. In my training to become a CEC accredited off grid designer, I simply and logically reasoned that, if people were living off grid and had done so for decades, it was doable on a national grid scale and just like RC model aircraft, the principals are exactly the same, the only difference is the size.
    To those who I told that it was possible and didn’t believe me, might just get it now !

  • Tim Bastable

    Technically feasible but in small densely populated countries like the UK (David MacKay etc) renewable energy fluxes are barely enough to meet existing demand for electricity – let alone to meet increased demand from a switch to electrically powered transport and heat pumps. The feasibility of an “all renewable” solutions here depends on making it possible to transfer power from solar rich area like the Mediterranean basin and the political will to invest in a supergrid. The “war on Islam” and the deliberate destabilisation of the EU by the UK political right don’t bode well for such a project.

    Seems to me that the limits on renewables are not technical but political. And looking round the globe, political obstacles seem to the dominant issue, denial and hydrocarbon frenzy are winning on the USA and Australia – we’re heading that way in the UK and who knows what this summers round of elections will bring to mainland europe?

    • neroden

      I agree absolutely. Some of the more northerly, cloudy, high-population countries really should be *importing* their solar power, and that’s a political obstacle.

      Here in sunnier countries, the obstacles are *blatantly* political, including direct political obstruction such as ridiculously large “setback” requirements for wind turbines.

  • Peter Campbell

    I’d be happy with 95% for now. A bit of fossil fuel used for a difficult last 5% would be OK during a transition period.

  • Stu

    This post seems ready made to serve as shorthand political retort to the new paper just released by Heard et al on the feasibility of 100% RE.

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364032117304495
    (Open access for next 50 days)

    The paper defines four key criteria for determining feasibility.. briefly stated here as: 1) Acceptance of mainstream demand forecasts, 2) Continuous supply, 3) Transmission and distribution and 4) Ancillary services. It looked at 24 published studies and scored each one based on the above criteria. The studies do not score well.

    What I’m wondering is… how has feasibility been arrived at by the experts interviewed in the poll above? No links are provided, no references. Nothing is really said. There is just a vague ‘can do’ attitude expressed by those who polled as ‘progressive’. Not really compelling stuff.

    To be sure, the four criteria defined by Heard et al are important ones and obvious imo to the success or failure to RE systems moving forward. In a carbon constrained world, the question of demand is really straight forward… you want to electrify transport and heating? You will need a lot more energy than current. RE plans which fail to account for this are not facing up to the reality of future demand. And on reliability, it’s fashionable in heavy RE circles and among some academics to describe baseload as a ‘myth’. Again, this is running from the problem.

    Of course the Heard study will not be the last word on this – I look forward to the advancing discussion, but an invisible consensus isn’t moving things forward and the poll results here suggest feasibility as simply a factor of tribally biased assumptions mistakingly being identified as facts. That’s not real feasibility.

    • neroden

      It is indeed true that claims of infeasibility are simply a factor of tribally biased assumptions mistakenly being identified as facts. That’s not real infeasibility.

      We’ve known that solar + batteries can handle everything (except airplanes) from a *technical* perspective for decades. It’s not in dispute among people who are paying any attention. It’s really just a matter of $$$$.

      We’re now asking the question of *financial* feasibility, which is a question where you start talking to financiers, not “energy experts”. The only plausible real dispute here is over the future price of batteries; everything else is tribal nonsense.

      Baseload is a joke and a myth; nobody wants electricity when they’re not using it. Transport electrification requires about a 30% increase in total electricity production. Heating electrification… well, lots of people have already done it, y’know? Getting the remainder is less than a 30% increase.

      There is a question of whether to build more batteries vs. more transmission lines, but this is a negligible consideration when talking about “feasibility”.

      • Stu

        I say ‘tribally biased’ because that’s exactly what the post above is saying-

        ‘Those energy experts considered ‘progressive’ were all convinced that 100 percent renewables is achievable… … those considered ‘conservative’ thought that renewables will still only be a small share of energy by 2050.’

        That’s about as tribal an example of attitudes towards feasibility as you can get. Wouldn’t it be better to begin to construct a sensible and reality based feasibility framework around which RE plans (or any future energy plan for that matter), could be tested against? That’s exactly what the new Heard paper does. You can rubbish the criterion but but then you could also be criticised for not taking said criterion seriously…

        Eg.

        ‘Baseload is a joke and a myth’.

        You can say baseload is a myth (you can say whatever you want), but the typical definition of baseload is defined as the amount of power below which demand never drops. In order to claim myth status for baseload you must also claim minimum demand to be essentially zero.

        I mean, can you see the baseload amongst all the pretty colours here?

        https://decarbonisesa.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/091414_1231_themythofth2.png?w=750

        (from ‘Simulations of scenarios with 100% renewable electricity in the Australian National Electricity Market’ – Diesendorf)

        I can… That’s just under 20,000MW. Unfortunately, I also see a lot of trees being burned as well (biomass in light brown). That’s a pretty heavy outcome for something we should apparently just disregard as mythological.

        ‘Transport electrification requires about 30% increase in total electricity production. Heating electrification… well, lots of people have already done it, y’know?’

        I guess you’re forgetting the 1 billion without current access to electricity and the 2 billion without access to reliable electricity. And electrifying industry- we want to do that too.

        • Tim Bastable

          You are right Stu – it’s not “tribal assumptions” that are the barrier to 100% renewables and I can’t agree with nerodens assessments.

          First of all, you can’t just write off a 2/3rd’s increase in capacity as a mere detail – the infrastructural costs of the capacity we already have is enormous and clearly tripling production is a bit more than “just economics”. And there’s the rub – it isn’t “tribalism” that puts up the barriers. There are powerful, obstructive political campaigns that have successfully turned back the clock on renewables and climate change across the developed world creating a hostile political environment to an already economically fraught situation.

          Why such hostility – simple – the economics of the “extraction industries” are one of the key avenues for upwards wealth transfer. Virtually everything we do involves hydrocarbons of one kind or another – from the food we eat to our clothes, and homes, as well as the obvious fuel for our cars and gas for our power generation there’s steady trickle of revenue flowing back to the world’s most wealthy and most powerful players. The Koch brothers are a typical example – they have spent maybe as much as a billion dollars on political lobbying of one form or another – and it has been highly successful. To compound matters, shares in the extraction industries form a key part of the investment portfolio of every insurance and pension company in the world – an energy policy that would bring the value of blue chip energy companies crashing down is going to create great political resistance.

          Technically while a switch to renewables is possibly – it is not easy – there are numerous technical questions to be resolved – and not all of the solutions are of necessity in place – but the big issue is political – and at the moment it is not being challenged in any serious way because the fosil energy lobby has all the resources and all the power in it’s hands

  • Mark Bare

    Someone please call Webster’s Dictionary and let them know that 114 OUT OF THOUSANDS has been redefined as MOST.

  • Here’s a plan which maps out the potential energy mix across the country. http://thesolutionsproject.org/infographic/