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Global energy systems based on 100% renewables

Accelerated deployment of renewables and energy efficiency can achieve around 90% of carbon emission reductions in the energy sector.

In November 2017, the Energy Watch Group presented a study that models a global transition to 100 per cent renewable electricity. The study, “Global Energy System based on 100% Renewable Energy – Power Sector”, shows that existing renewable energy potential and technologies, including storage, can generate sufficient and secure power to cover the entire global electricity demand by 2050. With favourable political frameworks, this transition can be realised even earlier. As costs for renewable energy keep falling, and emerging markets lead in green energy investment, a global power system fully based on renewable energy is no longer a long-term vision, says the Energy Watch Group. The cost of wind turbines has fallen by nearly a third since 2009 and that of solar PV modules by 80 percent. Renewable energy is now the most affordable source of power in many parts of the world, offering reliable opportunities for countries to decarbonise their energy sector and reach climate objectives.

Reuters reported in October that solar power costs will fall by another 60 per cent over the next decade, giving an already booming market another boost, according to the head of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Solar power is in the midst of a boom because of sharp drops in costs and improvements in efficiency, pushing global capacity from virtually zero at the start of the century to 300 gigawatts (GW) by the end of 2016, a figure expected to rise again by 2020. IRENA expects 80 to 90 GW of new solar capacity, enough to power more than eight billion LED light bulbs, to be added globally each year over the next five to six years, Adnan Amin, the director general of IRENA told Reuters.

Stanford University’s atmosphere and energy programme reports in the journal Joule that their roadmaps to a new energy world free of fossil fuels and nuclear energy can be achieved without the mining, transporting or processing of fuels. They say it would also create a net gain of 24 million long-term jobs, all by 2050, save up to seven million lives each year and at the same time limit global warming to 1.5°C. According to their roadmaps, 139 nations could be 80 per cent complete by 2030 and entirely committed to renewable sources by 2050. Jobs lost in the coal and petroleum industries would be more than compensated for by growth in the renewable sectors, and in the end, there would be more than 24 million new jobs worldwide. The switch to renewables would require massive investment, but the overall cost would be one fourth of what fossil fuel dependency already costs the world.

Another study recently published in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences, argues that there’s enough energy over the oceans to power all of human civilisation with wind alone. The reason offshore wind power has so much more potential than land-based wind farms is that wind speeds can be as much as 70 per cent higher over the sea. The study found that it would take a three-million-square-kilometre wind installation over the ocean to provide all of humanity’s current power needs, or 18 terawatts. That’s a lot of turbines; it would need to cover an area roughly the size of Greenland. Still, it’s possible.

IRENA also argues that by 2050, the accelerated deployment of renewables and energy efficiency can achieve around 90 per cent of carbon emission reductions in the energy sector necessary to keep the global average temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels – in line with the Paris Agreement. To put the world on a pathway to limiting global warming to well below 2°C, investment in renewables needs to reach on average USD 790 billion per year between 2017 and 2030. In 2016, roughly USD 270 billion was invested in renewable energy. More new jobs are being created in renewables than in all fossil fuel technologies combined. Around 9.8 million people work in renewable energy today. This number is expected to double in the next ten years. Under a decarbonisation scenario, global GDP could be boosted by roughly 0.8 percent in 2050 according to IRENA.

Compiled by Reinhold Pape


Reuters, 23 Oct 2017,

“Global energy system based on 100% renewable energy-power sector” by Energy Watch Group

“100% Clean and Renewable Wind, Water, and Sunlight All-Sector Energy Roadmaps for 139 Countries of the World” in Joule 6 Sep 2017

“Geophysical potential for wind energy over the open oceans” in PNAS 30 Aug 2017

Perspectives for the energy transition by IRENA,


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