When it comes to Environment and Climate Change, Renewable Energies are often referred to as the future of energy production. But are they really good for the environment?


 Can Renewable Energies really replace fossil fuels? And if so, will we generate enough Renewable Energy in time to stop the worst of Climate Change?


This page provides an answer to these questions.

Renewable Energies

 

Electric cars are known to consume less energy than cars running on diesel or petrol. Still, electric cars need a powerful battery. And is producing that battery not bad for the environment?

 

To compare energy consumption in a fair/correct way, we must always look at the complete lifetime of that item, i.e. from creating the item, to using it and disposing of it. This is called Life Cycle Analysis (LCA).

 

Fossil fuel driven motors have a notoriously bad LCA, as the fuel has to be pumped, often in a far off location, into ships that have to cross half the globe to reach their destination. The crude oil then needs to be refined into petrol/diesel and transported to a petrol station, where it is pumped into cars that have to burn the fuel and use the force generated by that ignition to move an axis or a wheel.  All these different steps generate energy losses.

In all, from well to wheel, a combustion motor has about 10-20% efficiency, meaning 80 to 90% of the energy is lost in the process.

Renewable Energies in general have less losses in production. It will therefore not be surprising that they indeed perform better than fossil fuels.

About all renewable energies are more efficient and in that sense better for the environment

Source - Teslarati

Are Renewables good for the environment?

Source - National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

 

Sources:

Source - National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

Source - Teslarati

 

 

 

How much Renewable Energy do we have currently installed around the globe, compared to fossil fuels? As fossil fuel production is so notoriously inefficient (see above), we have to make a distinction between Primary Energy Produced and Final Energy Consumed.

 

In terms of Primary Energy Produced:

Total Renewable Energy contribute to only 3-5% of Total Primary Energy Production

In terms of Final Energy Consumed:

Total Renewable Energy contribute to about 13-19% of Total Final Energy Consumed

​​
Primary Energy Production gives a better idea of the contribution of fossil fuels to GHG emissions; Final Energy Consumed gives a better understanding of the future potential of Renewable Energies.

Regardless of the estimations, it is clear from most sources that the overall share of Renewable Energy has increased only modestly in recent history, despite tremendous growth in the Renewable Energy sector, particularly for solar PV and wind power. The primary reason for this is the persistently strong growth in overall energy demand.

How much Renewable Energy do we have now?

Source - [A] National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

Source - [B]  BP

Source - [C] World-nuclear.org

Source - Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century

 

Sources:

Source - National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

Source - BP

Source - World-nuclear.org

Source - Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century

 

 

Renewable Energy production has had enormous increase in recent years.

Solar Energy has taken enormous steps in development and production. Due to this, the price of Solar Energy has decreased and production has increased dramatically. According to the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century total installed capacity of solar PV has increased with an average of 46% per year over the last 10 years.

According to a new report from the World Economic Forum, as of 2016, for the first time, solar and wind energy are now either the same price or cheaper than new fossil fuel capacity in more than 30 countries, This influential organization describes the change as a "tipping point".

Solar and wind energy are now either the same price or cheaper than new fossil fuel capacity in more than 30 countries

 

However, regardless of the estimations, it is clear from about all sources that the overall share of renewable energy has increased only modestly in recent history, despite tremendous growth in the renewable energy sector, particularly for solar PV and wind power. A primary reason for this is the persistently strong growth in overall energy demand.

The share of Renewable Energies in Total Energy Consumption has hardly increased at all over the last 25 years as demand for energy increased with the same speed 

How much did Renewable Energy Increase in the last years?

Source - Scientific American

Source - Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century

​​Source - International Energy Agency

Source - The Swedish Energy Agency

Source - BP

Source - Wikipedia

 

Sources:

Source - Scientific American

Source - Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century

Source - BP

Source - International Energy Agency

Source - The Swedish Energy Agency

Source - Wikipedia

 

 

Hydroelectricity (water dams) currently still provide the biggest share in modern Renewable Energy (excluding traditional biomass) with a 35% share. However, the global potential for hydroelectricity is limited to about 8% of total estimated 2030 Energy demand.

Similarly, biomass, biofuels and nuclear energy are estimated not to have enough potential to cover the increasing energy supply.

Hydroelectricty, biomass,  biofuels and nuclear energy do not have enough potential
to cover Global Energy Consumption

Of the different types of Renewable Energy, Solar & Wind Energy are the only 2 that are estimated to have enough potential to cover global demand. The potential is even substantially bigger than global demand. 

The main material used to produce solar panels is silicon, which is one of the most common materials on the planet; hence  supply of raw materials is not expected to cause limitations.

The biggest obstacles for Renewable Energies is Time.

Solar and Wind Energy both have the potential
to more than cover Global Energy Consumption

How Much Potential for Renewable Energy?

 

Sources:

Source - Fair Observer

Source - Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century

Source - Global Potential of Concentrating Solar Power - Institute of Technical Thermodynamics
Source - Global potential for wind-generated electricity - Harvard University

Source - National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Source - Wikipedia

Source - United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission

 

 

 

To limit global warming to 2°C with more than 50% probability, we need to reduce (GHG) emissions by 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2050.

It is by definition impossible to predict with certainty what the future will look like; this will depend on our actions in the present and in the near future. If Renewable Energy can grow enough and fast enough to make GHG drop, is therefore subject to discussion.

However, the share of Renewable Energy in Total Energy not having increased for the last 25 years, despite its current soaring, is not promising.

The year 2005 is further away from today than the time we have left to achieve 50% renewable Energy.

 

Given the data of the last years and several predictions on future energy among which a large scale global survey done amongst 114 renowned energy experts from around the world:

'Climate Response' states the following:

"It is very unlikely that Renewable Energy by itself can limit global warming to 2°C"

 

"Only a combination of a swift conversion to Renewable Energy and
a rapid restriction on Energy demand can limit Climate Change"

 

Will we have enough Renewable Energy in Time?

Source - International Energy Agency

Source - World Energy Counsil

Source - Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century

Source - International Energy Agency

 

Sources:

 

Source - Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century

Source - International Energy Agency

Source - International Energy Agency

Source - National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Source - International Energy Agency

Source - Wikipedia