Scientists Hit Back: Another Paper Claims 100% Renewables is Possible and Affordable
Is it possible for the world to run on 100 percent renewable energy? It's a noble goal, as the best science tells us we must significantly slash fossil fuel consumption or else the planet faces dangerous climate change.
A number of academics believe it's not only feasible to wean off coal, natural gas and other polluting fuels by transitioning to renewable sources such as solar and wind power, it's even cost-effective.
Other researchers disagree, and this divide has spilled out into a spiraling debate, with each side pumping out more research to prove their positions. Last September, Australian scientist Benjamin Heard, an advocate for nuclear power, and his team published a critical review in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Review that stated, "there is no empirical or historical evidence" that a 100 percent renewable electricity system is feasible.
Now, in a direct rebuttal published Thursday in the same journal, scientists concluded there are no roadblocks on the path to a clean energy future.
The authors of the new paper hail from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Lappeenranta University of Technology, Delft University of Technology and Aalborg University.
In the earlier paper, Heard and his colleagues raised a number of questions, including whether renewables-based systems can survive extreme weather events or when the wind isn't blowing or when the sun isn't shining. They also questioned if the power grid could stay stable with such variable generation.
The scientists in the current paper responded to each critique after reviewing of dozens of existing studies and highlighting examples of successful grid operators around the world, from Denmark to Tasmania.
In the first scenario, during periods of extreme weather or when wind and solar energy fail or fall short, Brown and his team suggest imports, hydroelectricity, batteries and other storage methods. Or, in the " worst-case solution," they said hydrogen or synthetic gas produced with renewable electricity could fill that gap. As for maintaining grid stability, they offered technical solutions, such as rotating grid stabilizers and newer electronics-based solutions.
"While several of the issues raised by the Heard paper are important, you have to realize that there are technical solutions to all the points they raised, using today's technology," said lead author Tom Brown of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in a statement.
"Furthermore," added Christian Breyer of Lappeenranta University of Technology, who co-authored the response, "these solutions are absolutely affordable, especially given the sinking costs of wind and solar power."
"There are some persistent myths that 100 percent renewable systems are not possible," noted Brian Vad Mathiesen of Aalborg University, another co-author of the response. "Our contribution deals with these myths one-by-one, using all the latest research. Now let's get back to the business of modelling low-cost scenarios to eliminate fossil fuels from our energy system, so we can tackle the climate and health challenges they pose."
After the paper was released, Heard, the lead author of the September paper, tweeted "congratulations" to Brown and his team for the publication and called it "a tough journal."
But it's clear the debate is not over yet. Brown added, "There *is* something about the way all this 'possible and affordable' stuff, under a little scrutiny, demands massive additional research, subsidies, far-reaching policies interrelated across economic sectors, market reforms etc. AKA 'political will'"
Here's How We Can Power 100% of the World With Renewable Energy https://t.co/dnU4tRFCQd @Green_Europe @foeeurope— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1483533032.0
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By Harry Kretchmer
By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
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