Renewable energy for all. Is it possible?

A world powered 100% by renewables seems like a faraway fantasy. But is it actually possible?

 Children sit under solar panels at Bishunpur Tolla, Dharnai village. A solar-powered micro-grid is now supplying electricity to the village.

“100% renewables!”

It’s a buzz-phrase that loves being thrown around by environmentalists, passionate protesters and science geeks alike. From activists, to companies or start-ups spruiking their latest eco-powered device, renewable anything is a steadily growing industry.

If you’re reading this then you already know the motivation behind this growing trend. Climate change, pollution, increasingly warm oceans, water and food shortages – these are just some of the factors that are driving us towards an energy poor world. If we continue towards this path we could be living in a world reminiscent of Total Recall – an oxygen starved “Waterworld” with only a handful of habitable cities. With fossil fuels being one of the biggest drivers behind climate change we know that if we change our practices now and turn to renewables we can keep within the 2 degrees safety limit that scientists warn us about.

Greenpeace volunteers of Youth Solar (Jugendsolar) in cooperation with volunteers from the organisation 'Solaragenten', install a photovoltaic power plant on avalanche barriers in the ski resort of Bellwald.

But 100% renewable energy? Really? Don’t we need just a little bit of coal/nuclear power to keep the world spinning?

Greenpeace International, in collaboration with the Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics, Systems Analysis & Technology Assessment at the German Aerospace Center, have just made the impossible possible. A 100% renewable energy world by 2050, and it could start in as little as three months from now with a binding agreement at the COP 21 conference in Paris. According to the report, what we need is:

“A strong long-term goal, phasing out fossil fuels and nuclear power by 2050 through a just transition to 100% renewable energy, as well as the protection and restoration of forests.”

What’s more, not only is this transition possible, but will create jobs and is cost-competitive, with the necessary investment more than covered by savings in future fuel costs. The average additional investment needed in renewables until 2050 is about $1 trillion a year. Because renewables don’t require fuel, the savings are $1.07 trillion a year, so more than meet the costs of the required investment.

In jobs, the solar industry could employ 9.7 million people by 2030, more than 10 times as many as it does today, and equal to the number currently employed in the coal industry.

 Coal power plant Mehrum (operated by E.On, Stadtwerke Hanover and BS Energy) and wind turbines. The coal-fired power plant delivers 683 Megawatt of energy.

Already, the seemingly major polluting countries are seeing the investment in renewables. In 2014, for the first time in 40 years, global energy-related CO2 emissions remained stable in spite of continued economic growth, thanks mainly to declining coal consumption in China.

Entrepreneurs – from the university educated to the village Einsteins – are coming up with clever ways to power and profit using nature’s gift; and almost every day there’s a “world first” – from a completely solar powered airport to a country running (almost) completely on renewables.

We also know that renewables have the potential to power up (pun intended) economies, and our “Solarize Greece” crowd-funding campaign is an example of how we’re helping to rid the country of the burden of fossil fuels that are holding it down economically and for Greece to fight its way back out of the crisis.

Slowly but surely the world is waking up to the stark reality that fossil fuels are a finite resource with renewables being an additional economic and employment boost. What’s more is that there are no major economic or technical barriers to moving towards 100% renewable energy by 2050.

So, maybe the fantasy isn’t so far off anymore.

Take action. Join the Energy [R]evolution!

Shuk-Wah Chung is a Content Editor at Greenpeace East Asia

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