Is a 100% Renewable Future Achievable?
Jan 16 2021 Read 754 Times
It might seem like a pipe dream to some, but a new study has demonstrated that a world powered completely by renewables is possible. A collaborative effort between universities from Australia, Ireland and the USA, the research looks at how sweeping changes in our energy consumption patterns and a migration towards electrification in our energy mix could bring about the highly sought-after scenario.
The study is one of the first of its kind and raises interesting questions about how land use must be prioritised in order to achieve our objectives. While the findings of the research do indicate that further technological advancements in energy generation and fuel sources would be necessary for a 100% renewable future, the power to enact them is within our grasp.
Analysing the options
First of all, the team looked at whether it would be possible for planet Earth to sustain the energy demands of its entire population through renewable means alone. They concluded that based upon current forms of production and existing patterns of behaviour, the planet could theoretically have the biocapacity to meet our demands – but that doing so would leave no land available for nature.
Therefore, the researchers pivoted their investigation to look at how a change in our habits could bring about the much-vaunted renewables-only scenario. They found that the best course of action may incorporate the electrification of our energy network, combined with the pursuit of new technologies capable of converting gases already found in our atmosphere into usable fuel sources.
Much of the scenario envisaged by the team relies upon the use of sophisticated solar power technology and other renewable energy sources in order to “electrify” the international power grid. Instead of relying on fossil fuels for the energy to heat, light and power our homes and run our vehicles, we must switch to a grid which is run on electricity instead.
If as much as 75% of the world’s power sources could be gleaned through electricity, the study’s authors predict that a world powered entirely by renewables could be feasible. However, the transition would depend upon a number of other factors, including our ability to synthesize ambient gases into fuels and – perhaps the greatest challenge of all – our ability to adapt our habits to a more sustainable pattern.
It is the high-income countries like the UK and the USA which are most culpable for profligacy when it comes to fuel consumption. Therefore, those sky-high demands would have to come down in order to avoid a world where unsustainable amounts of land were given over to the production of high-quality biofuels, leaving little room for other important ends like agriculture and even nature.
All the same, a significant proportion of the planet will still need to be consumed in order to achieve the green dream. “The success of this green ideal will be highly dependent on major future technological developments, in the efficiency of electrification and in producing and refining new synthetic fuels,” explained study co-author Luca Coscieme: “Such a scenario is still likely to require the use of a substantial - albeit hopefully sustainable - fraction of the world's forest areas.”
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