With the Paris Climate Summit fast approaching, we hear more and more talk about an energy transition towards a 100% renewable energy future and the urgency to phase out fossil fuels and nuclear power. However, do you really know why renewable energy is the only only way forward? Here are the reasons why transitioning to renewable energy is not only desirable but absolutely necessary.
1. Renewable energy is profitable
In a recent study, Greenpeace and DLR (German Aerospace Center) found that the investment necessary to reach a 100 per cent renewable goal will be huge, namely US$1 trillion a year. However, the good news is that it will be more than covered by the US$1.07 trillion in savings on fuel costs alone in the same period, (not to mention the vast co-benefits to human health and the avoided costs from climate change-related extreme weather).
There no need to look at predictions to realise that the use of renewable energy is already attractive from an economic view. Taking the German example, nearly one quarter of national energy demand is met by renewable resources, which has led to an increase in employment within the energy sector by nearly 380.000 new jobs. It’s reasonable to conclude that this sort of example will be repeated accross the world in the (near) future as the share of renewables is growing worlwide and will account for 25% of global energy in 2018.
As it is taken from freely available resources, renewable energy also enables long term control over energy prices. Until now, investments in infrastructure and technologies to produce renewable power weighed upon the cost of renewables, but it will not be the same in the near future, assuming sufficient efforts are made.
Phasing out fossil fuels and moving to 100% renewables make economic sense – especially when the true costs of our current energy system are taken into account. In recent years, the costs of wind and solar energy have declined substantially. For example, solar PV panel prices have dropped 75% since 2009.
2 Renewable energy is democratic
As it stands, when one wants electricity, he or she is forced to purchase it from someone else. When individuals are able to own the equipment that generates their electricity, that means they wouldn’t have to rely on fluctuating prices or shortages from outside energy producers.
Switching to renewable energy contributes to the safety of local supply, the control of consumption and reduction in the lack of energy security.
More broadly, in many countries, a fossil fuel and nuclear based electricity supply has often led to a centralised, inflexible and inefficient transmission system that is inherently hostile to the integration of large quantities of renewables, such as solar and wind. In many developing countries, there is inadequate or completely missing grid coverage for much of the population and renewable off-grid or mini-grid solutions are much better suited to fulfil the goal of sustainable energy for all. Finally, renewables help in safeguarding the supply security and the energy independence of all countries. As for individuals, renewable energy use protects people from supply cut offs and from the volatility of prices resulting from hazards of international energy markets.
3. Renewable energy is … renewable!
It is something obvious, but which is often forgotten: fossil fuels and uranium are both finite resources. Even though we have seen a recent drop in oil prices (because global demand declined), there is absolutely no doubt that at some point, fossil fuels are going to either be phased out or they are going to become too expensive to realistically be exploited. In any case, if we want to keep the temperature rise below 2°C on our planet, we can only afford to burn a tiny fraction of known already accessible reserves.
Some observers point the fact that when fossil fuels and uranium become too expensive as they become harder to access or find, people will just start using something else. That sounds relevant in theory, but in reality, shifting from fossil fuels and uranium is not the same as shifting from one shirt to another. You can’t just ‘stop using fossil fuels and uranium’ when they become too expensive.
Until now, humans have relied so much on the infrastructure they have developed – an infrastructure entirely reliant upon fossil fuels – that the transition can’t be achieved in a few days, but needs long term action, hence the emergency to radically speed up the transition is now.
In a nutshell, renewable energy is of course better for the environment than fossil fuels and nuclear energy. That’s why Climate Action Network Europe expects the phase out of all fossil fuel emissions and phase in of 100% renewables by 2050 as an important part of the Paris COP 21 outcomes.
Gaétan Arnould is intern at CAN Europe