The utopia of environmentalists is to have a 100% renewable economy. Renewable energy used to power the world. Those opposed to this concept say that it could never happen, however, it is just an idealistic dream, the pragmatics of which just don’t work.
A report released by the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) in 2011, is a compelling argument for renewable energy, however. The report, entitled The Energy Report: 100% Renewable Energy by 2050, argues that the switch to renewable energy is not just a possibility, it’s a necessity.
The WWF collaborated with energy consultancy Ecofys and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture to carry out the report and funding was given by ENECO, a Dutch energy company. The report presents a scenario where 95% of the world’s energy needs are met by renewable energy in the year 2050.
Although there’s a 5% disparity between the future presented in the report and complete reliance on renewable energy, it’s still a big jump from two years ago, when renewable energy accounted for just 25% of the world’s energy, according to a report by the Institute of Science.
The WWF argue that this increase in renewable energy use would be possible by retrofitting houses with renewable energy systems as well as insulation. There would also need to be a shift in transportation habits, with less aviation and more use of renewably powered transport, such as plug-in electric vehicles.
The forms of energy that they propose using are wind, hydropower, solar, geothermal and bioenergy. The use of traditional energy sources would be phased out; however, 5% would remain for industrial processes, although these processes would need to be much more efficient.
While the idea is sound, putting it into practice is another matter. Arguments against a renewable future tend to point to the fact that renewable energy simply isn’t viable. The cost to install all the necessary systems wouldn’t be recouped for as long as 20 years. Although renewable energy companies may be able to benefit, this would be a massive hit for companies trading in traditional sources.
There is also the issue of geography. Solar panels may be alright in the Bahamas, but if you live in Scotland, a lack of sun would severely hamper your ability to have green electricity surging through your house. Similarly, some areas simply aren’t windy enough to sustain a wind farm, and it’s not like you can just import a breeze.
However, the WWF report touches on the need for equity, and understands the need to share our energy equally between successful projects and less successful projects. The report also states that a switch to renewable energy is needed to stop climate change from causing irrevocable damage to the planet.
In theory, a future with renewable energy is possible and even viable. However, reaching a renewable future will take massive changes and incur huge costs. Despite this, the fact remains that fossil fuels will one day run out and an alternative energy source will be required. Although there may be a lot of energy used in the initial installation of necessary systems required for a renewable future, in the long term, the carbon footprint would be reduced and the cost would be recouped. So it would make sense to start building for that future now.