A recent study published in Nature Communications has found that renewables can meet most of the world’s energy needs. According to the authors, even the most industrialized countries that need a heavy power supply can rely on renewable energy, specifically wind and solar.
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The study was led by researchers from the University of California, Irvine, to address concerns raised by critiques of renewable energy. As the world struggles to move away from fossil fuels, those opposed to the change have argued that renewables cannot reliably meet the energy needs of industrialized nations.
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In response, the researchers behind the study analyzed the hourly electricity needs of 42 developed countries over the past 39 years. They found that wind and solar power could cover up to 80% of the energy needs of most developed countries without the need for heavy storage. The study further found that wind and solar could cover 72-91% of energy needs in most of the countries studied. With a boost of 12-hour battery storage, wind and solar could meet 83-94% of power needs in most countries.
“Wind and solar could meet more than 80 percent of demand in many places without crazy amounts of storage or excess generating capacity, which is the critical point,” said Steve Davis, UCI professor of Earth system science. “But depending on the country, there may be many multi-day periods throughout the year when some demand will need to be met by energy storage and other non-fossil energy sources in a zero-carbon future.”
Researchers collaborated with experts from China’s Tsinghua University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, and Caltech. Although the authors agree that it will not be possible to phase out fossil fuels in a flash, they say that it can be done with consistent efforts from all stakeholders.
“Historic data show that countries that are farther from the equator can occasionally experience periods called ‘dark doldrums’ during which there is very limited solar and wind power availability,” said lead author Dan Tong, assistant professor of Earth system science at Tsinghua University.
The scientists gave an example of a recent situation in Germany that left the country without solar for two weeks. In reference to such situations, they say that only small countries with high power demands such as Germany may be unable to meter their energy needs.
“It comes down to the difference between the difficult and the impossible. It will be hard to completely eliminate fossil fuels from our power generation mix, but we can achieve that goal when technologies, economics and socio-political will are aligned,” said Davis.