100% Renewable Energy, Is It Realistic?

Windmill for electric power production

Windmill for electric power production. Credit: Public Domain Picture

Climate change has a requisite of global shared targets. The targets include deep decarbonisation (80% to 100%). What would be the best way to be fully decarbonised? The attempts to reduce carbon from the electricity sector are by pulling other energy services. There is a lot of demand for electricity, even with attempts at decarbonising.

The sources of carbon-free electricity, the sun and the wind, are variable. Grid operators are on a look out for dispatchable carbon-free resources. Increasing amounts of variable renewable energy (VRE) and carbon-free dispatchable resources can balance VRE and guarantee reliability. Fossil fuels and nuclear are sources of dispatchable carbon-free power with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). So, can VRE be balanced in decarbonised grid and maybe without nuclear and CCS?

Two papers which have a facet of scepticism on 100% renewable are a literature review, self-published by the Energy Innovation Reform Project (EIRP), authored by Jesse Jenkins and Samuel Thernstrom. Another paper published in the journal, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, by B.P. Heard, B.W. Brook, T.M.L. Wigley, and C.J.A. Bradshaw take a comprehensive look at 100% renewable electricity systems.

Jenkins and Thernstrom surveyed 30 studies on deep decarbonisation and stated that most of the today’s models placed a high value on dispatchable power sources for deep carbonisation. They added that it was difficult to find large dispatchable power sources without nuclear and CCS.

The second review examined 24 scenarios for 100% renewable energy and the authors concluded that the feasibility of 100% renewable energy was inadequate for the formation of responsible policy towards responding to climate change.

The optimistic facet includes a third paper, the Renewables Global Futures Report (GFR) from global renewable-energy group REN21. The paper is premised on interviews of 114 energy experts from all over the world, on the feasibility and challenges of achieving a 100% renewable energy future.

The various models and takeaways include a cost-benefit analysis which is most likely to offset higher renewables costs to more than what most other models show. Most of the models cannot be definitive as they do not account existing strategies to expand or manage VRE.

In conclusion, getting deep carbonisation needs planning and innovating on an ecosystem of dispatchable resources to balance VRE. Someone could consider natural gas for driving down emissions and balance VRE, keeping nuclear plants open for longer, and have more research on carbon-free dispatchable resources.

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