What Will Happen If We Transition To Renewable Energy?

What will happen if we transition to renewable energy?

The world is at a critical juncture when it comes to energy. Fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas have powered society for over a century, but they come with significant downsides like air and water pollution, habitat destruction and climate change. In fact, burning fossil fuels for energy accounts for nearly three quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change (IEA).

At the same time, renewable sources like solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal offer a path to cleaner energy. Renewables are becoming more affordable and accessible, and accounted for over 26% of global electricity generation in 2020 (IRENA). Many experts believe renewables have the potential to meet most of the world’s energy needs in the coming decades.

This article will examine the implications of transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Shifting to renewables can mitigate climate change, create new economic opportunities and improve public health. However, the transition also faces obstacles like political opposition, grid reliability concerns and high upfront costs. Overall, renewables represent the most promising path to a sustainable energy future.

Economic Impact

The transition to renewable energy is expected to have a net positive impact on the economy by creating new jobs and investment opportunities while reducing costs from fossil fuel dependence. According to the Yale School of the Environment, renewable energy development on public lands could create $18 billion in capital investment annually while supporting over 200,000 jobs by 2025 (source). The investment in renewable energy infrastructure and operations often creates more jobs per megawatt than fossil fuel power plants.

In addition, a transition away from fossil fuels is projected to provide cost savings. According to an analysis by IRENA, the adoption of renewable energy could result in global fuel cost savings of between $1.3 trillion and $4.2 trillion annually by 2030, compared to a business-as-usual scenario (source). These fuel cost savings largely come from utilizing low-cost renewable electricity generation instead of fossil fuel sources.

Finally, renewable energy presents tremendous investment opportunities, estimated to require about $5.7 trillion in cumulative investment globally through 2030 to realize the fuel cost savings mentioned above (source). This capital can come from both private and public entities interested in realizing the long-term cost savings and environmental benefits of renewables.

Environmental Benefits

Transitioning to renewable energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal, and hydropower provides significant environmental benefits compared to fossil fuels. Most notably, renewable energy produces little to no greenhouse gas emissions, which are the leading cause of climate change. According to the EPA, the use of renewable electricity in the United States avoided more than 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 alone (EPA). Widespread adoption of renewables is critical for reducing global carbon emissions and mitigating climate change.

In addition to cutting carbon pollution, renewable energy results in cleaner air and water quality compared to fossil fuel energy. Burning coal, oil, and natural gas releases pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and mercury into the atmosphere. These pollutants contribute to smog, acid rain, and poor air quality that have dire effects on public health. Shifting to wind, solar, and other renewables eliminates emissions from fossil fuel combustion and improves air quality. Hydropower and solar PV systems also reduce water usage and contamination from mining and drilling (UCSUSA).

The public health benefits of renewable energy are clear. Reduced emissions from fossil fuel electricity generation result in decreased rates of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, hospital visits, lost work days, and premature deaths. Renewable energy mitigates the toxic air and water pollution caused by burning coal, oil, and gas. Investing more in zero-emissions renewables leads to cleaner air, water, and improved health for communities across the country.

Grid Reliability

A major concern regarding the transition to renewables is whether they can provide stable baseload power like fossil fuels currently do. However, recent research shows that renewables can meet baseload needs with proper grid integration and management. According to a NREL study, an 80% renewable grid is achievable with high penetration of wind and solar, along with grid flexibility from energy storage and demand response technologies.

One hurdle for grid reliability is integrating variable and distributed renewables like wind and solar. But grid operators are developing new forecasting tools and market mechanisms like faster dispatch of reserves to balance supply and demand fluctuations from renewables. Energy storage like batteries and pumped hydro can also help smooth out renewable generation profiles. For example, California is using lithium-ion batteries to shift solar power to evening peak demand periods.

Innovations in energy storage will be key for grid flexibility. Beyond lithium-ion batteries, new technologies like flow batteries and compressed air storage are advancing. And utilities are piloting virtual power plants that aggregate distributed solar, storage, and demand response assets across the grid to provide services like baseload power and ancillary services.

Political Landscape

Transitioning to renewable energy on a large scale will require substantial government policy changes and public support. Recent surveys show that most Americans favor increased reliance on renewable energy sources. A 2022 Pew Research Center poll found that 72% of U.S. adults believe the federal government should encourage the increased production of wind and solar power (source). However, partisan differences remain, with Democrats more supportive of renewable energy than Republicans.

Government incentives and subsidies have been important for accelerating renewable energy deployment so far. Tax credits, rebates, and other financial incentives make renewable power more cost-competitive with conventional sources. However, continued political commitment will be necessary to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and enact supportive policies at the federal, state and local levels. Public campaigns to increase awareness of renewable energy benefits may help build political will for the transition.

Biggest Obstacles

The transition to renewable energy faces several major obstacles that impede widespread adoption. Three of the biggest challenges are the high upfront costs, lobbying efforts from the fossil fuel industry, and training a qualified workforce.

Installing renewable energy systems like solar panels or wind turbines requires significant initial investments. According to the UCSUSA, “the up-front costs to fossil fuels are minimal, but renewable energy requires expensive installations and equipment” (Source). These high capital costs can deter individuals and companies from switching to renewables.

The powerful fossil fuel industry also lobbies heavily against policies that promote renewables. As reported by the IEA, “The oil and gas sector remains firmly opposed to policies driving the energy transition” (Source). Their influence makes it difficult to enact legislation favoring renewable energy growth.

Finally, there is a shortage of skilled workers available to design, build, and maintain renewable energy systems. More training programs are needed to develop a robust renewable energy workforce and enable this transition.

Technological Advances

There have been significant improvements in renewable energy technologies in recent years that have increased efficiency and lowered costs. For example, the efficiency of solar photovoltaic panels has increased dramatically, with lab cell efficiencies now over 47%, compared to around 15% a couple decades ago. Commercial silicon solar panels are now over 20% efficient on average.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, advancements in wind turbine technology could unlock 80% more wind energy potential in the U.S. during this decade. Larger rotors, taller towers, improved materials, and more sophisticated controls have increased the output of wind turbines. Turbines today are also more reliable and cost effective.

Smart grids, smart meters, and other monitoring technologies allow for two-way communication between utilities and customers. This enables greater integration of renewable energy sources into the grid by balancing supply and demand in real time. Smart grids also increase reliability and resiliency.

There have also been major advancements in energy storage technology, such as lithium-ion batteries. Prices for lithium-ion batteries have dropped by 89% in the last decade. Energy storage innovations help overcome the intermittent nature of renewables like solar and wind, and support the stability of the grid.1

Projections and Targets

Governments around the world have set ambitious renewable energy targets for 2030. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewables are set to contribute 80% of new power generation capacity through 2030 under current policy settings, with solar alone accounting for nearly 60% of that growth. Overall, the share of renewables in global electricity generation is projected to rise from 29% in 2021 to over 45% by 2030.

The IEA forecasts that global renewable energy capacity will grow by over 250% by 2030 compared to 2020 levels. However, they caution that governments need to accelerate deployment to reach climate goals like limiting warming to 1.5°C. The IEA analysis shows that renewable energy capacity additions need to double from current growth rates to put the world on track for net zero emissions by 2050. Specific regional and national projections include:

  • The European Union aims to generate 45% of its energy from renewables by 2030.
  • The United States is projected to double its renewable energy generation to 42% by 2030.
  • China expects non-fossil fuel sources to account for 25% of its energy mix by 2030.
  • India aims to have 175 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2022 and 450 gigawatts by 2030.

While the growth outlook for renewables is positive, experts emphasize that sustained policy support and technological innovation will be critical for realizing these projections and decarbonizing the global energy system.

Individual Actions

There are many ways individuals can support the transition to renewable energy. One of the most impactful is asking your electric utility about their renewable energy programs. Many utilities now offer options for customers to purchase renewable energy credits or sign up for renewable energy plans. This sends a signal of demand to the utility and helps drive further investment in renewables.

Individuals can also install renewable energy systems like rooftop solar panels or small wind turbines on their properties. Many states and utilities offer rebates, tax credits, and other incentives to make these systems more affordable. Purchasing renewable energy certificates (RECs) is another easy way to offset non-renewable electricity use.

On the policy side, individuals can write or call elected officials to voice support for renewable energy initiatives and climate action plans. Community organizing and advocating for renewable energy at public hearings can also make an impact.

Simple everyday actions like using energy efficient appliances, turning off lights, and reducing overall energy consumption also help ease the transition by lowering energy demand overall.


To summarize, research shows that transitioning to renewable energy is both achievable and urgently needed to mitigate climate change. Key points include the environmental benefits of reducing carbon emissions, projections that renewable energy could supply most of the world’s electricity by 2050, and the steady reductions in cost that make renewables increasingly competitive with fossil fuels. While political obstacles and grid reliability remain challenges, technological advances and falling prices for renewables mean the transition is economically realistic. With the right policies, investments, and public engagement, studies suggest renewable energy could power a sustainable global energy system within the next few decades. This transition will require effort at all levels, but is essential for the health of the planet and future generations.

The outlook for renewable energy transition is optimistic if people work together and embrace the environmental, economic, and health benefits. With commitment and perseverance, research shows a renewable energy future is within reach.

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