Do Experts Believe It Is Possible To Power The Planet On Renewable Energy Only?

Do experts believe it is possible to power the planet on renewable energy only?

Experts broadly agree that powering the planet with 100% renewable energy is technically feasible, but reaching full decarbonization faces significant political, economic and technological obstacles. Most studies indicate that the solar, wind, hydroelectric and geothermal resources available could meet global energy demand. However, transforming the energy system requires rapidly scaling up renewable infrastructure worldwide, modernizing power grids, overcoming fossil fuel incumbent interests, and gaining public acceptance. While the challenges are substantial, experts remain optimistic that with sufficient commitment and investment, 100% renewable energy is achievable this century.

The Potential of Renewables

Studies show that renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydro and geothermal have enormous potential capacity to meet global energy needs. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the combined potential capacity from renewables could reach over 90 petawatt-hours (PWh) per year by 2050, far exceeding projected global energy demand of 30 PWh/year.

Specifically for solar power, technical potential is estimated at over 25,000 PWh per year globally (IRENA). The largest potentials are found in the world’s sunniest regions like the Middle East, North Africa, Southern Africa, Australia and the southwestern United States.

For wind power, technical potential is projected at 600,000 PWh/year globally (IRENA). Coastal and mountainous areas tend to have the greatest wind energy density.

Regarding hydropower, approximately 16,000 TWh/year of technical potential remains to be harnessed worldwide, according to the International Hydropower Association. The largest untapped potentials are located in Africa and Latin America.

Finally, geothermal energy potential is estimated at 200,000 PWh/year globally, primarily concentrated along tectonic plate boundaries in the Americas, East Africa, and Asia (IPCC).

Historical Growth Trends

According to data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the share of electricity produced by renewables globally has grown substantially over the past few decades.

In 1990, renewables accounted for only 16% of global electricity production. By 2019, that figure had grown to over 26%, with an average annual growth rate of 2.3%.

The IEA data shows particularly rapid growth in renewables starting around the mid-2000s. From 2004 to 2019, the average annual growth rate was 5.7%. In that 15-year period, the global share of renewables more than doubled from 13% to over 26%.

Solar and wind power experienced even faster growth rates in recent decades. According to the IEA, from 2000 to 2019, solar PV capacity grew by an average of 49% per year. Over the same period, wind power capacity grew by an average of 24% per year.

This rapid growth can be attributed to falling costs and supportive policies. Since 2010, the global weighted-average levelized cost of electricity has declined by 85% for utility-scale solar PV and by 56% for onshore wind. Many countries have also implemented renewable energy targets and incentives that have accelerated adoption.

The data shows a clear trajectory of increasing renewable energy deployment globally over the past several decades. If these growth trends continue, the share of renewables looks poised to expand substantially in the years ahead.

Sources:

https://ourworldindata.org/renewable-energy

https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics/charts/average-annual-growth-rates-of-world-renewables-supply-1990-2019

Projected Future Growth

Expert projections indicate rapid growth for renewable energy in the coming decades. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewables are set to account for over 90% of global electricity expansion over the next five years, overtaking coal to become the largest source of electricity generation by 2025.

Under current policy settings, the IEA forecasts that renewables will contribute 80% of new power generation capacity through 2030, with solar alone accounting for nearly 60% (1). By 2025, renewable capacity is expected to meet 35% of global power generation, up from 29% in 2021 (2).

The IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2022 states that renewables will account for over half of total electricity generation by 2030 in its stated policies scenario. In an even more ambitious net zero emissions by 2050 scenario, renewables expand to over 80% of total generation by 2050 (3).

Experts emphasize that realizing these projections will require accelerating deployment and overcoming political and technical hurdles. However, the trends show renewables’ central role in decarbonizing the power sector this decade and beyond.

(1) IEA – The energy world in 2030

(2) WEF – Renewables to hit 35% by 2025

(3) IEA – World Energy Outlook 2022

Countries Leading the Transition

Many countries have set ambitious renewable energy targets and are leading the transition away from fossil fuels. According to Visual Capitalist, some of the countries with the most ambitious 2030 renewable energy goals include:

-Sweden: 100% renewable electricity

-Costa Rica: 100% renewable electricity

-Denmark: 100% renewable electricity and heating/cooling

-Uruguay: 97% renewable electricity

-Germany: 65% renewable electricity

The shift is already underway in many countries. According to Yahoo Finance, some of the countries leading in renewable energy adoption are:

-Iceland – 100% renewable electricity

-Norway – 98% renewable electricity

-Austria – 78% renewable electricity

-Denmark – 64% renewable electricity

-Portugal – 54% renewable electricity

With strong policies and investments in place, these countries are setting the pace globally for the transition to renewable energy.

Grid Reliability

While renewable energy offers tremendous environmental benefits, some experts have raised concerns about the reliability of an electric grid powered entirely by intermittent resources like wind and solar. Fluctuations in renewable generation can lead to power quality issues and instability on the grid if not properly managed.

However, recent advancements in energy storage, forecasting, and smart grid technologies are helping to address these challenges. Large-scale batteries and other storage methods act as a buffer between renewable generation and the grid, while advanced forecasting improves predictability and dispatchability. Microgrids and virtual power plants also enable better coordination of distributed energy resources.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “Renewable energy contributes to energy reliability because there are no limits to the amount of wind, solar, water, and geothermal power that Earth provides.” https://www.energy.gov/eere/energy-reliability With the right enabling technologies and grid architecture, many experts believe renewables can provide stable and reliable energy.

Political and Regulatory Challenges

There are significant political and regulatory obstacles to achieving 100% renewable energy globally. A key barrier is climate science denial among some policymakers, which hinders initiatives to phase out fossil fuels and transition to renewables (The Security Distillery, 2020). The fossil fuel industry also wields tremendous political influence through lobbying and donations. This gives them power to block policies like carbon pricing and renewable energy mandates that threaten their bottom line (The Bulletin, 2022).

Additionally, partisan divides often stall action on climate and energy policy. Conservative parties frequently oppose aggressive renewable targets and subsidies. Progress has mainly occurred when bipartisan consensus emerges on the economic, environmental and security benefits of renewables. Public opinion polls show strong support for renewables across the political spectrum, but this consensus is often not reflected in actual policy (EESI, 2020).

Outdated energy infrastructure also hinders the transition, as does lack of transmission infrastructure to connect renewable generation with load centers. Market rules that favor fossil fuels over renewables present another challenge. Overcoming these barriers will require political will, bipartisan cooperation, and updated regulatory frameworks.

Public Opinion

Public opinion polls indicate strong support for transitioning to renewable energy in the U.S. A 2022 Pew Research Center survey found that 67% of Americans believe the U.S. should prioritize alternative energy development over expanded oil, coal and natural gas production. This represents a majority viewpoint across party lines, with 81% of Democrats, 61% of Independents and 48% of Republicans in agreement.

However, support varies depending on the pace and scale of renewable transition proposed. A 2019 Gallup poll showed 65% of Americans would support a gradual reduction in fossil fuels over 10-20 years. But support dropped to just 42% for proposals to dramatically reduce fossil fuel use within 10 years. According to Gallup’s historical trends, support for rapidly phasing out fossil fuels within 10 years has never exceeded 50%.

Despite general favorability, the Pew Research Center found 89% of Americans support more solar panel farms and 83% support more wind turbine farms. Public concerns mainly center around practical factors like reliability and cost rather than outright opposition to renewables. Addressing these concerns and maintaining public support through a managed transition may prove critical for policymakers pursuing a 100% renewable energy future.

Environmental Benefits

Achieving 100% renewable energy would have immense benefits for the environment by drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution from fossil fuel energy generation. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, renewable energy results in lower emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides (SOx), particulate matter and other pollutants that negatively impact public health and contribute to climate change (https://www.energy.gov/eere/renewable-energy).

The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that transitioning to 100% renewable energy in the U.S. by 2050 could reduce power plant CO2 emissions by over 80% compared to 1990 levels. This would play a major role in limiting global temperature rise to 2°C and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change (https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/benefits-renewable-energy-use). Solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower generation produce little to no greenhouse gas emissions during operation. Biomass can lead to some CO2 emissions, but the overall impact is still far lower than burning fossil fuels.

In addition to climate benefits, reducing air pollution from fossil fuel power plants through renewable energy adoption would prevent thousands of premature deaths in the U.S. each year according to public health experts. This improved air quality would lead to decreases in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, hospitalizations and lost work days. The health benefits of renewable energy deployment demonstrate the tremendous potential to create cleaner and healthier communities.

## Conclusion

In conclusion, many experts believe it is possible to transition to 100% renewable energy to power the planet, but there are still challenges that need to be addressed. The growth of solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal and other renewable sources has been significant in recent decades. If these trends continue, renewables have the technical potential to fully meet global energy demands in the coming years.

Key factors in enabling an all-renewable future will be updating power grids to handle intermittent sources, overcoming political and regulatory hurdles, shifting public opinion, and highlighting the environmental benefits. With concerted efforts to tackle these challenges head on, experts agree that 100% renewable energy is an achievable goal for powering our world.

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