Is 100 percent Renewable Energy Realistic and Affordable?

Could the World switch to 100 % energy generation using wind and solar?

Could we do it by 2030?

What would it cost? Is it feasible?

Would the benefits outweigh the costs?

What countries are considering 100% renewables as a realistic option.

Could the World go 100 percent Green - It is not easy being Green

According to a report in the National Geographic it is feasible for the world to generate all its power from renewables by 2030 or 2050 with a more gradual phase out of coal and oil based industries including transport.

The study estimates that it would take about:

  • 4 million massive wind turbines,
  • 90,000 large scale solar plants
  • 1.7 billion 3-kilowatt solar PV systems as well, which is equivalent to on solar PV system every four people on the planet.
  • 400 -500 % increase in the production of rare earth metals that are a crucial ingredient in renewable energy technologies.

100% Renewable ? Realistic?

Fossil fuel currently provides more than 80 percent of electrical energy on earth.

To provide a replacement for this would require a massive change of direction.

The current percentage of energy generated by renewable resources in 2008 is shown below - adapted from Renewables:2010 Global Status Report

Also shown are the estimates for the world and EU in total, and the 2020 renewable energy targets for some countries.

Fossil fuel currently provides more than 80 percent of electrical energy on earth. To provide a replacement for this would require a massive change of direction.

In the report, published in the journal Energy Policy, the researchers aimed to show enough renewable energy is available and could be harnessed to meet energy demands indefinitely by 2030.

The National Geographic study estimates that the world would require nearly 4 million large wind turbines rated at 5 megawatts (MW) and larger.

That's two or three times the power capacity of the majority of turbines on the market; the first 5 MW turbines were introduced offshore in Germany in 2006, and China built its first 5 MW wind turbine last year.

The study estimates that the world would need 90,000 large-scale solar plants, each with a capacity of about 300 MW.

At present there are very few of such large scale plants operating; most are far smaller.

Pecent of Power from Renewables (2008)

Country
Percentage
Country
Percentage
World
19%
 
 
EU
8%
 
 
Albania
18%
Ireland
4%
Australia
7%
Italy
8%
Austria
29%
Kenya
58%
Belgium
3%
Latvia
28%
Bolivia
39%
Lithuania
10%
Bulgaria
5%
Luxembourg
4%
Canada
61%
Malta
1%
Chile
51%
Mozambique
99%
China
10%
Netherlands
3%
China
17%
Panama
64%
Colombia
82%
Peru
56%
Costa Rica
95%
Poland
6%
Cuba
9%
Portugal
18%
Cyprus
2%
Romania
14%
Czech Republic
5%
Slovakia
5%
Denmark
18%
Slovenia
12%
Ecuador
62%
South Korea
2%
Estonia
12%
Spain
8%
Finland
25%
Sweden
32%
France
8%
Switzerland
16%
Germany
8%
Switzerland
56%
Greece
5%
United Kingdom
3%
Honduras
60%
United States
9%
Hungary
6%
Uruguay
61%
Indonesia
5%
Zambia
99%

Wind and Solar Complement Each Other - The Perfect Pair

There would need to be a major adoption of domestic rooftop solar power as well, with 1.7 billion 3-kilowatt solar PV units required as well. This is the equivalent to solar PV systems being installed for every four people on the planet. A big ask!

The researchers claimed that wind and solar are very complementary - When the wind isn't blowing, its usually bright and sunny and vice versa, but this will not deal with storage issues.

A huge international grid system may be needs to reduce the need for storage, which is not real with comprehensively. The more consistent renewable sources such as wave, tidal power, geothermal systems.

Reversible hydro-power, using excess power to pump water up hills and generating peak power when the water flows down again. This method is already used as a de facto energy storage system.

Geothermal systems and energy system for generating power from ocean waves and tides, would contribute about 6 percent of world energy. Hydroelectric dams would contribute about 4 percent of world energy.

The up-front cost for the 100 percent renewable plan is $100 trillions of dollars which would need to be invested over the next 20 years. It has been claimed that the investment would pay for itself through the sale of electricity and energy. There would also be major saving by not have to upgrade coal fire plants, build new ones and develop 'clean coal' technology.

The provision of the basic bulk materials for the infrastructure such as concrete and steel would not be a problem. However the production of rare earth metals such as neodymium may be a major issues. Neodymium is used in to make the super-magnets needed for wind turbines. Production of neodymium would have to increase 4 to 5 fold. The reserves are there but its would need to be mined at a much faster rate.

The researchers argue that another strategy to gradually phase out coal powered stations and oil burning cars by 2030, and then replace the existing plants gradually to reach the target of 100 percent green energy by 2050.

Daniel Kammen of the World Bank praised the paper as it highlight the great potential of renewables which will have to be adopted eventually.

Various Countries are Looking at Going 100 percent Renewable by 2030-2050

European Union

The RE-thinking 2050 strategy outlines a pathway for the EU to switch to a 100 percent renewable energy supply for electricity, heating, and cooling, as well as for transport by 2050. RE-thinking 2050 showcases a 100 percent renewable energy system for the EU including the environmental, economic and social benefits of such a system. The report provides policy recommendations for developing the EU's renewable energy potential.

Iceland

About 80 % of the total primary energy needs of Iceland is produced from renewable energy sources. Iceland is unique in having major natural energy resources. In 2007, geothermal power contributed about 65 % of primary energy, hydropower was about 16 %, and fossil fuels (mainly oil) 18 %. The geothermal energy is mostly used for space heating with almost 90% of all Iceland houses being heated in this way.

Renewable energy provides 100 % of electricity production, with about 71 % coming from hydropower and about 29 % from geothermal power.

Australia Now Lags Behind

The Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Stationary Energy Plan (the ZCA2020 Plan) has been developed as an economically attractive and technically feasible strategy to move to 100% renewable energy within ten years. The plan involves switching from oil and gas powered systems to electricity, a variety of renewable energy systems and strategies to improves energy efficiency, The two primary technologies are Wind and Solar - Concentrating Solar Thermal (CST) with storage provided by Molten Salt Storage, and backup from existing hydro and biomass. Detailed modelling has shown that this system, with all its components would work an achieve a system with 100% reliability.

Modelling shows that developing the scheme over a 10 year period would require a small part of the Australia’s industrial capacity, in terms of labour and resources. The cost of the scheme would require and investment of $37 Billion/year is the equivalent of 3% of GDP.

The criteria used to select the technologies for the ZCA2020 Plan were:

  • can supply the required 330 TWh/yr with the flexibility to meet daily and seasonal chages in demand;
  • commercially technology that is available today;
  • produce no greenhouse emissions after construction;

The chosen renewable energy technologies are:

  • Wind Turbines (40% of power) are relatively cheap and the technology is well developed.
  • Concentrating Solar Thermal (CST) (60% 0f power). Large-scale Concentrating Solar Thermal with molten salt storage
  • Small-scale solar (roof-top). Small-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) power is very important for reducing demand for grid electricity.
  • Hydroelectric Generators. Existing hydroelectric generators have a crucial role in meeting power peaks and power at night.
  • Biomass Contingency - crop-residual biomass can be used as a backup.

Germany

Germany leads the world with a 80-100 Percent Renewables Goal. The development is widely regarded as technically realistic, despite Germany not being best suited for renewable energy - generally lacking wind and sunshine resources and volcanic energy available to Iceland.

In 2008 Germany relied on imports of gas, coal, oil and uranium for 70 % of its primary-energy needs. To meet its goals will require completely changing the present energy mix. Despite more than 21,000 wind turbines and 13 million square meters of solar installations, Germany still gets more than 50 percent of its electricity from burning fossil fuels, including lignite, the most polluting form of coal.

The key strategy is the feed-in-tariff, which guarantees a fixed price for renewable energy. This simple concept increased investment in renewables and has been adopted by 18 states of the European Union as well as Brazil, Japan and China.

The Government has led the way with the Offices of the parliament having solar-panel rooftops. The Reichstag has its own geothermal heating plant. The success of the plan depends of political will, community engagement and support, not technical or economic feasibility.

Scotland

Scotland has ambitious plans for 100 Percent Renewable Energy production by 2025. Scotland has unrivalled green energy resources, particularly for wind power.

The Government has claims that Scotland's national target to generate 80 % of electricity needs from renewables by 2020 will be exceeded using wind, wave and tidal generation. Scotland is planning to generate most of its power from offshore as well as onshore wind farms.

With a recent launch of what continues to be the world’s largest tidal power plant, the country is also a leader in wave hydropower – generating enough power for roughly 1,000 homes.

Rise of Renewable Energy Technology

There has been a geographic shift in primary centres for innovation in renewables and implementation. Wind power was deployed in just a few countries in the 1990s, but is now found in more than 82 countries throughout the world. Manufacturing centres have shifted from Europe to Asia as countries like China, South Korea an India continue to increase their commitments to renewable energy.

By 2009, China was producing about 40 % of the world’s solar PV systems, about 35 % of the world’s wind turbines, up from around 10 % in 2007, and about 80% of the world’s solar hot water collectors.

Policies for stimulating the growth of renewables have acted as a great stimulus for initiating and maintaining the industry, clearly shown in Germany, where feed-in tariffs were a break-through step; leading to the uptake of feed-in tariffs type of systems number of countries around the world.

At least 83 countries have some policy to promote renewable power generation, feed-in tariff being the most common. By early 2010, 50 countries and 25 states/provinces had feed-in tariffs, and strong momentum for feed-in tariffs is maintained around the world.

© janderson99-HubPages

© 2011 Dr. John Anderson

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Pixienot 5 years ago from Clarksville, Indiana

Some important things we can learn from other countries. Thank you so much for this hub. I appreciate it.

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