Great news: We can replace all today’s fossil fuel energy with zero-combustion renewable energy in 5 years. But the bad news is, our governments are sabotaging that transformation.
In 2011, the IPCC confirmed what many environmental articles had predicted. The 2011 special report, Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change, said there was enough practical renewable energy to replace all fossil fuel energy.
Wind and solar have doubled their share of global electricity generation since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015.
In 2019, two-thirds of new global electricity generation capacity came from solar and wind (Bloomberg New Energy Finance). Today there is far more than enough renewable energy that can be sourced with technology already available.
Due to plummeting solar, wind and storage battery costs, the US can reach 90% clean electricity by 2035, dependably and with no cost increase.
In the UK, wind power and solar energy will produce electricity far more cheaply than any fossil fuel or competitor by 2025.
However, today’s conventional wisdom universally quoted is that switching from fossil fuel energy to 100% renewable energy will take another 30 years. But that timeline is not based on an assessment of how fast the conversion could be made.
I am no expert on energy but the media are agreed that fossil fuel energy prospects are very poor and renewable energy prospects are rising very fast — with both changes happening much faster than anticipated. The intermittency problem of wind and solar is being solved as big battery storage increases and its costs decrease. Also, solar advances mean electricity can be generated with less sun. And as wind energy increases, the future is sky-high kites. The highly complex technology has already been developed by Makani of California — and it works.
With global-warming-driven disasters increasing in devastation worldwide, it would be unbelievably negligent not to aim for an increase in zero-combustion energy that would match today’s fossil fuel use within five years. There is certainly no reason not to try.
This article only examines the prospects of such a rapid renewable energy increase, not the opportunities for the essential, rapid reduction in fossil fuel use. The obvious inference, though, is that we could certainly phase out fossil fuel energy in under a decade. Looking at current renewable energy data, today’s target of net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 is clearly out of date and unrealistically slow. The goal of net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 will not stop accelerating climate change data and impacts, and will not avoid total planetary catastrophe. Climate change indicators, which have been tracking the business-as-usual scenario, are now on the very worst-case scenario.
“Revest”: Divest and Re-invest
The energy / climate message from the market has never been clearer: we must divest from losing fossil fuels and re-invest in clean renewable energy. Fossil fuel energy is simply no longer economic. Renewable energy investments have continued to perform well even through the Covid-19 economic pause.
The just announced drop of Exxon from the Dow Jones Industrial Average highlights the fossil market’s retreat from the global market. As recently as 2013, Exxon was the largest U.S. company with a market value above $415 billion. It has since shrunk to less than $180 billion. The move to fracking for oil has been an investment disaster as well as an environmental one. Fracking is insane and must stop.
I am no investment expert but my retirement savings — all in renewable energy — are doing just fine, with no change due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
There is no future with any fossil fuel energy — except a short miserable dark age. Our only future and best ever future is with clean renewable energy.
Yet to this day our governments are going against the energy market and against a future for us. The IMF estimates total world annual subsidies to be over US$5 trillion a year. In addition, on post Covid-19 government support for energy, Energy Policy Tracker shows the G20 handing out a whopping 52% to fossil fuels and only 35% to clean renewable energy. As my savings are in clean renewable energy, this makes me angry. Atmospheric CO2 is at a 23 million year high and so is ocean acidification. For the human race, this huge government handout and bailout is a fossil fuel death sentence. Clearly all this money should be going to clean renewable energy. Fossil fuels are killing us. And fossil fuel corporations can reinvent themselves as clean energy companies.
Five Years to Decarbonization
Five years to decarbonization? It’s an ambitious goal, but an attainable one. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has just released its 2020 annual Key World Energy Statistics. World wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) are increasing fast, though not fast enough, and can increase much faster. Renewable energy growth is actually being held back. I call renewable energy, to replace greenhouse gas polluting fossil fuel energy, zero-combustion energy because I exclude biomass combustion and biofuels that emit CO2. I include nuclear fission as a practically zero-carbon, energy-dense source of power.
A climate change game-changing study of June 2020 from The Center for Environmental Public Policy, housed at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, finds that due to plummeting solar, wind and storage battery costs, the US can reach 90 percent clean electricity by 2035, dependably and without increasing consumer bills. Scientists say we must cut global carbon emissions in half by 2030 to avoid catastrophic climate impacts. Most studies aim for deep decarbonization of electric power systems by 2050, but this report is the first to show we can get there in half that time with the latest renewable energy and battery cost data. It says that on the path to 90% over the next 15 years, we can inject $1.7 trillion into the economy, support a net increase of more than half a million energy-sector jobs each year, and reduce economy-wide emissions by 27%. This American future also retires all existing coal plants by 2035, reduces natural gas generation by 70%, and prevents up to 85,000 premature deaths by 2050.
A UK government report, Energy Generation Cost Projections, 2020, published in August 2020 by UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, shows that wind power, both on and offshore, and solar energy will produce electricity far more cheaply than any fossil fuel or nuclear competitor by 2025. The difference is enormous.
Large-scale solar, thought to cost £68 per megawatt-hour (MWh) in 2016, is now expected to be £44 MWh in 2025, falling to £33 per MWh in 2040. In comparison, the latest natural gas turbines are estimated to cost £115 per MWh in 2025.
For offshore wind, the department now expects the price to be £57 per MWh in 2025, almost half its estimate of £106 for the same year made in 2016. It expects the price to drop to £47 in 2030, and to £40 by 2040. Onshore wind, estimated to cost £65 per MWh in 2016, is now said to be down to £46 in 2025 and still falling after that. Worth noting is the fact that large-scale solar power is cost-competitive with fossil fuels even in a not particularly sunny country, which means the future should be bleak for both coal and gas generators across the world.
Wind and solar have doubled their share of global electricity generation since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015. That’s a 100% increase in just a few years. The IEA report shows that in 2018, rapidly increasing non-combustion energy accounted for 10% of world energy production. According to today’s trends, increasing clean energy by 50% in a year is feasible. It would surely happen if governments immediately stopped supporting fossil fuels. The more renewable energy is produced, the cheaper it gets, and more is produced. If non-combustion energy is increased by a rolling 50% a year, it would be more than all today’s fossil fuel energy in 5 years.
This amazing increase in zero-combustion renewable energy is taking place despite less support from governments than is given to fossil fuel energy as well as lagging support from the big utilities (see Nature Energy 2020-08-31, Galina Alova).
The big range of renewable energy production amongst nations shows how little most governments are supporting renewable energy. Opportunities from Decarbonization in the Global Power Market, 2019-2030 provides the information. The top two are Germany at 42% (though Germany is still burning coal) and the UK at 33%. All others are under 30%. The USA is only 12%; China, a big manufacturer of renewable technologies, is only 10%; and Japan is also only 10%. Even so, by 2030 38% per cent of electricity will be a combination of solar and wind. All of these countries could catch up with Germany in no time, if their governments decided to.
Our Governments are Killing Us on Energy
The fossil fuel corporations and governments are cheating on the costs to us from burning fossil fuels for energy. The IMF has estimated that world fossil fuel subsidies amount to over $5 trillion a year when the huge, so-called externalized (ignored) costs are included. These are the costs of the damage to human health and the environment caused by fossil fuel air pollution, for which taxpayers (not the corporations responsible) must pay. Research and World Health Organization (WHO) data show that fossil fuels are already killing millions of people every year by air pollution. If not stopped, they will be killing billions due to greenhouse gas pollution. WHO data show at least 3.5 million people are killed each from fossil fuel air pollution. Externalization of such costs started years ago on the basis that these are so-called non-market costs, meaning no one knows what the exact cost is. That has not been true for years; we have the numbers on fossil fuel health costs. The 2006 UK Stern Commission explained that allowing these costs to be ignored is not proper under market economics.
Why are governments killing us on energy, when their job is to protect us? Governments are not in total control. Today more than ever, the big multinational banks are. All nations are heavily indebted to the corporate banks, and they set their national interest rates by the so-called central banks — and they have no idea about the global climate change planetary emergency. Their only goal is to maximize money and profit making.
I would like to sit down with the CEOs of the biggest banks and fossil fuel corporations. I would explain that their continued business as usual has us on the worst-case possible climate change scenario. The science is now definite on that, which means the biosphere is headed for collapse, which will happen at 2°C if not before. On today’s emissions scenario, I would tell them, climate change and ocean acidification will last thousands of years and are not reversible. Plus there is not the slightest possibility of removing carbon from the atmosphere to forestall the collapse. So them sticking with their business as usual dooms civilization, and the human race. During the last gasps of civilization, they will be blamed for the end of the world. And then it will be like their big corporations and humanity never existed. How much better it would be for them to use their power to save the world.
Job one for everyone with a bank account is to make sure their money is not being put into fossil fuels and instead is being invested in zero-carbon clean renewable energy. Everyone who has a child in their life — yes, that’s every adult — must demand that their government immediately stop all Covid recovery bailouts and all subsidies and incentives to the fossil fuel industry. These subsidies must be switched right away to zero-combustion energy.
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