Study shows that a full transition to 100% renewables is possible and no longer more expensive than the current energy system
“The ongoing Fridays For Future movement initiated by young climate activist Greta Thunberg shall serve as a wake-up call for all of us to collectively do our best to hand over our planet to the next generation in the best condition possible,” writes Hans-Josef Fell in a new study: Global Energy System based on 100% Renewable Energy.
For the President of Energy Watch Group, the wake-up call happened a long time ago. Hans Josef Fell is a prominent figure of the Energiewende, and one of the first supporters of a shift to 100% renewable energy. He is notably one of the fathers of the German Renewable Energy Sources Act: a series of German laws that originally provided a feed-in tariff (FIT) scheme to encourage renewable electricity generation.
A new perspective towards a shift to 100% renewable energy
The current world population of 7.3 billion is expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050. At the same time, world final energy demand is expected to grow by an annual average of around 1.8% according to researchers from Finland’s LUT University and the Energy Watch Group. With these numbers in mind, they have simulated a transition to 100% renewable energy — of the entire world and of all sectors — structured in nine major regions and 145 sub-regions on an hourly resolution of 5-year time periods from 2015 until 2050.
“The study was set up with the belief that rapid and effective climate protection is the only way to save a planet worth living on for generations to come,” explains Hans-Josef Fell. The results show that a full energy transition to 100% renewable energy is indeed feasible, and cheaper than the current global energy system, based primarily on fossil fuels and nuclear. According to the researchers, who spent 4 and a half years modelling this transition, existing renewable energy potential and technologies including storage are capable of generating a secure energy supply at every hour throughout the year.
Here are two figures to remember from the study:
0: That’s how much energy-related greenhouse gas emissions could be released into the atmosphere worldwide if we follow this path to 100% renewable energy.
The study shows that with a transition to 100% renewable energy system, annual global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the energy sector would decline steadily through the transition from approximately 30 GtCO2eq in 2015 to zero by 2050. In the world we live in today, energy-related GHG emissions account for more than 60% of total global GHG emissions.
35 million: That’s the number of people working in the power sector in 2050, according to data.
In 2015, the global power sector employed approximately 20 million people, with more than 70% in the fossil fuel sector. If we shift to a 100% renewable power system, there will be 35 million people working in that industry, with the majority (22 million) employed in the solar PV industry. The approximate 9 million jobs lost from the global coal industry will be overcompensated by more than 27 million new jobs in the renewable energy sector.
A cheaper solution for a more peaceful world
According to the study, the levelised cost of energy for a fully sustainable global energy system will be slightly cheaper than with the current system, reducing from approximately 54 €/MWh in 2015 to 53 €/MWh by 2050.
The research also concludes that because the 100% renewable energy system will be supported by locally available resources, it will improve energy security around the world, leading to a more peaceful and prosperous global community. By eliminating international energy dependencies, the system would contribute to solve the world’s energy-related conflicts.
Christian Breyer, the scientific coordinator of the study, adds:
“We are the first who can show that a zero greenhouse gases
emission system by 2050 within a 1.5°C pathway is possible, in a
cost neutral way for all people in the world without any need for
risk technologies such as fossil carbon capture and storage and
nuclear energy. Since we did the analysis in very high geo-
spatial and in full hourly resolution we have proven that a stable
energy supply being mainly based on variable renewables is at
the center of a real world climate change policy.”
Time for governments to move forward
The best instruments we have to stay in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement and to save the planet from irreversible climate change are renewable energy and energy efficiency. Today, we know that a smooth, fast, and cost-effective transition to 100% renewable energy across all sectors is achievable. It is now in the hands of governments to adopt national legislative frameworks that will ensure the swift uptake in the development of renewable energy, storage technologies, sector coupling, and smart energy systems.
For Hans-Josef Fell, it is absolutely necessary that all governments abolish fossil and nuclear subsidies. Policies should be focused on sector coupling and enabling direct private investment in renewable energy and other zero emission technologies. The study recommends that Feed-in Tariff laws be adopted to enable investments from decentralised actors, such as small and medium enterprises, cooperatives, communities, farmers and citizens. The researchers also agree on the necessity to introduce carbon, methane and radioactivity taxes while creating incentives to spur the growth of renewable energy technologies (tax exemptions, direct subsidies, and legal privileges). Ultimately, policies and frameworks that promote research, education and information sharing on renewable energy and zero emission technologies are essential to achieve this transition.
“We need to change the conversation: A transition to a global 100% renewable energy system is no longer a matter of technical feasibility or economic viability, but one of political will. Not only do we need ambitious targets, but also stable, long-term, and reliable policy frameworks, adapted to regional conditions and environments,” concludes Hans-Josef Fell.
This article was written by Anne-Sophie Garrigou, Editor-in-Chief of The Beam magazine. Subscribe to The Beam for more.
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