Don't Be Fooled; Renewable Energy Grids Are Not Only Feasible But Economical
Don't believe me? Here is why.
There is a deafening crescendo of anti-renewable rhetoric bouncing around global politics, energy companies and even climate summits. They claim renewables are far too unreliable, uneconomical to use as a primary energy source, and will cost way too much to adopt them over fossil fuels. Even McKinsey, the normally pro-renewable consulting firm, calculated that the renewable energy transition will cost an average of $9.2 trillion per year between now and 2050. That is an annual increase of about $3.5 trillion per year from the current global energy spending level. According to McKinsey, funding that increase will take a quarter of the global tax revenue! So, is our planet-saving renewable energy transition doomed? Nope, not at all! Because the actual reality of renewables is far from this fearmongering hot-air-blasting. Allow me to explain.
Let’s start off with the cost of the renewable energy transition. You see, McKinsey’s figures are a little misleading.
This is highlighted by a recent analysis by RMI. The authors of this study identified a massive flaw in other studies that estimate the cost of the renewable transition; namely, they don’t fully consider the decrease in fossil fuel spending. You see, as we invest more in renewables, we need to spend less on fossil fuels and fossil fuel infrastructure. As such, the RMI report found that the entire globe only needs to spend a few hundred billion dollars more per year than we already are to power the renewable energy transition. That is literally a fraction of the McKinsey prediction. What’s more, this RMI figure doesn’t take into account the vast amount of money that would be saved through mitigating climate change, which is far more than a few hundred million dollars per year.
But is renewable energy reliable enough to completely replace fossil fuel power? After all, it can be overcast and windless for days on end; surely, we would have blackouts in such a situation.
David Osmond of Windlab ran a two-year simulation of Australia’s main electricity grid, the National Electricity Market (NEM), to see if renewables are capable of providing 100% of the grid’s energy demand. Osmond simulated a volume of renewables capable of providing 100% of the grid energy demand over the year (remember, renewables’ peak output doesn’t match up with peak energy demand) combined with 5 hours worth of energy storage (24 GW / 120 GWh energy storage). He then used real-time grid demand and scaled up real-time renewable energy supply to run the simulation, and the results were fascinating!
All in all, the renewables could entirely power this grid for 98.8% of the time! Incredibly close to the goal. Not only that, but the estimated wholesale cost of this renewable energy was $95 per MWh, which is less than the current cost of wholesale energy on the National Electricity Market, which sits at $108 per MWh, and similar to the average cost over the past 8 years.
So yes, they are reliable and only need a little help to become our primary energy source.
This is backed up by a similar study based on the UK’s energy grid, which found that with current technology (i.e. solar panels, wind turbines and grid batteries), renewables can provide the UK with 90% of its power without increasing the cost of energy. The study found that it is possible for renewables to provide that last 10%, but for the UK (which is far less sunny or windy than Australia), it would take a significant increase in renewable capacity and energy storage to meet it, which increases costs too much. But that isn’t a problem, as the UK already gets 15% of its energy from nuclear power, which has as small of a carbon footprint per unit of energy as renewables. Not only that, but the UK intends to triple its nuclear capacity over the coming years any way.
So, not only will the renewable transition cost the globe practically nothing in the grand scheme of things (roughly $25 per person per year), but it won’t increase the cost of energy, and thanks to other ultra-low carbon forms of energy like nuclear power, it won’t cause any blackouts either. But it gets better because I haven’t even mentioned that for years now, renewables have been way more profitable than fossil fuel energy. Basically, the renewable energy transition is not going to be painful at all for anyone involved. The only way it can go wrong is if the government cocks up and kneecaps the energy grid during the transition. Which, let’s face it, is likely in some locations. But that wouldn’t be renewable’s fault; it would be squarely on our dysfunctional leadership. However, either way, we should ignore the naysayers; the data and stats are clear that renewables can save the planet, without inconveniencing you.
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