How much Renewable Energy do we use and what the future has in store for us?
According to the report of REN21 and data by the International Energy Agency by the end of 2014 fossil fuels contribute a staggering 78.3% for final energy consumption, a meager 2.5% is generated through nuclear power plants and the rest, which is 19.2%, is generated by renewable sources. There is no need to go into more detail at this point, as to what percentage each type of Renewable contributes to this figure, but suffice to say that only 1.4% is generated through solar, wind, biomass and geothermal sources. Considering the first two are the most prominent in social consciousness and so low in energy contribution gives rise to many questions.
All energy on Earth originates from the Sun as a gift to all of us for free and should be available to all at the slightest cost.
So let’s shed some light into the really low percentage of the most famous renewable sources. Up until the late ’80s solar power was not so cheap to manufacture and it had a relatively low, especially compared with today, energy conversion efficiency. In addition there were no subsidies, at least not in the scale we see these last years, also the feed-in tariffs were not so great, therefore not appealing for an investor. A similar tale can be said for wind power, only that it rose to prominence earlier and was made heavily popular in countries like Denmark when the offshore installation was deemed profitable. But both sources even with the latest technological advancements weren’t been promoted enough.
But this all changed at the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. After this disastrous event there has been a large rise in investment towards those two, especially solar power, therefore there has been an increase in marketing and expectation generated in order to make the investment more appealing and more socially acceptable. This means that energy generating companies, by gradually replacing fossil fuel and nuclear power stations with renewables , will not loose their share in the market (or their profits), but will also gather positive fame and goodwill from the public, due to the aforementioned expectancy cultivated.
But this in not enough to make them so popular. Another factor is the fact that they can be installed and deployed individually, so that some houses can operate completely off-grid. Companies like Tesla have created stylized and aesthetically appealing (and of course effective) products with the off-grid benefits in mind, so more aggressive marketing has followed this sector as well.
Still this is not enough to generate a public goodwill, interest and fascination. So the last barrier was removed by convincing people to invest in solar power with loans, good feed-in tariffs and in some cases with state (or EU) subsidies in order to start hanging around and reap the cash from their solar farms. In most cases the loans are repaid from 6 to 9 years. That leaves for around 9 years (typical solar panel have a high efficiency for about 15 to 20 years) to benefit from the investment. But feed-in tariffs almost everywhere and especially in countries that have promoted this movement have fallen, mainly because the aforementioned Fukushima disaster caused not only the renewable energy frenzy, but also to an overproduction of Solar Panels and subsequently a price drop for them, that made it even more appealing to invest in them, but at the same time Electricity Companies could not maintain the same premium feed-in tariffs and be profitable. In the end this means that those individuals that invested in this during the mid to late 2000’s will not benefit that much from their investment.
In the end those who have benefited from all this solar and wind power rage are large scale installations and companies dedicated to providing the means to harvest said power.
So what does the future holds for us? According to the International Renewable Energy Agency at the moment there are various scenarios been played out that give a share of 20% up to 85% for renewables. Given 2014 19.2% it is curious that there is a prediction for only 20% in 2050. This is because it is considered that by then today’s 9% of traditional (and less efficient) uses of bioenergy will be obsolete and modern renewables will have covered this gap by then, in the worst case scenario. Also the energy consumption will rise and will we need even more energy (renewable or not) to carter humanity’s needs. Even if we consider the median value for this projections, it will stand at about 52.5% of primary energy supply in 2050. If this rate of growth is steady we will achieve the golden 100% in about 2095.
It seems the future is unwritten for renewables. Predictions vary from 20% to 85% in 2050, so it’s difficult to say where we really be at that time.
Even with this simplistic approach it is evident that we are steering towards a renewable energy future. Countries like Costa Rica as of 2016 have already achieved an almost total independence from fossil fuel derived energy generation for 110 consecutive days. Although the example used has some qualities that allow it to function, at least it means that it does not belong to a utopian future.
We will continue with some examples from another interesting idea and how can we connect the dots to achieve worldwide renewable energy at a low cost in the Second Part of this post due next week.