Is It Possible to Power the Whole Planet with Clean Energy?
As you might have guessed, Chariot Energy is a big believer in the power of renewable energy to transform our lives. However, we also realize that the energy industry is unimaginably complex, and fossil fuels still power much of our lives. Despite this, many people are increasingly wondering: Could we ever live on a planet where sustainable energy resources replace fossil fuels?
In theory, yes — but in reality, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Here, we’ll discuss some of the leading arguments in favor of and against this potential development and then present the crucial steps we believe must be taken for renewables to be firmly in charge. If we want to slow the rise in global temperature before 2050, all of these ideas should be adopted.
Comparing Renewable Energy with Fossil Fuels
With very few exceptions, most energy industry experts believe we should adopt clean energy resources. They acknowledge that our planet needs to curtail the excess greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere, which starts by increasing the use of sustainable energy and decreasing fossil fuel use.
They disagree, however, on whether renewables will ever surpass fossil fuels — with most doubting that we’ll ever get rid of fossil fuels entirely. Thus, even in the most expert energy circles, the debate continues about when, how, how many, and where green energy solutions can be adopted.
In Support of Increasing Renewables
If you’ve ever driven through West Texas or Southern Oklahoma, you might have seen large gatherings of towering wind turbines.6 These powerful machines work together to generate electricity in large amounts. It’s then purchased by the local utility company and sent to the electricity grid to be used by the public.
In Support of Keeping Fossil Fuels
Most of these adherents will admit that renewable energy is good for the environment and have their place in the energy mix. But they also believe that humans will always need fossil fuels. They declare that the current pace and format of sustainable energy technology simply cannot keep up with the growing demand for energy worldwide.
We Must Face the Realities of Our Energy Future
Guess what? In our opinion, both groups are right! We must curb the use of fossil fuels because they hurt the planet. Even if you take the recent science driving the 2016 Paris Agreement with several grains of salt, you still understand that we need to use less oil, coal, and natural gas and use more solar, wind, and hydro to power our world.
But the current trajectory of renewable energy resources comes with problems:
- The rare earth metals used in solar panels, windmills, and batteries are costly to extract.
- Battery technology doesn’t allow for sufficient long-term storage of energy created from solar and wind.
- Transmission of the energy generated from solar and wind farms in rural areas is inefficient.
- The energy transition process from fossil fuels to renewables requires time for infrastructure upgrades.
Do we still need to make these strides? Absolutely! But for renewable energy to fully replace fossil fuels, a few more critical events must first occur.
1. Increase Current Production Levels
Let’s start by acknowledging two facts:
- The planet will reach 9 billion in population before the end of the century.
- There are still over 1 billion people on the planet without regular access to electricity.
Thus, we will continue to need more and more energy to power the world, which means that we must continue to ramp up the amount of electricity created from sustainable sources. Yes, production has increased year-over-year for the last several years running, but it still isn’t to the level where we could supply everyone’s needs.
2. Improve the Technology
As solar power advocates will tell you, enough solar energy hits the planet every day to meet the energy supply needs we discussed in tip #1. The problem is that we can’t use all of that energy with the current technology we have in place.
The biggest hurdle at the moment is the lack of high-capacity and long-storage batteries. Since the sun isn’t up 24/7 and the wind blows intermittently, we need better ways to retain that energy to use it when the sun has set and the air is still.
Other tech improvements include:
- Transmission – Reducing the energy lost as it travels from rural generation locations to population centers
- Construction – Enhancing how we build panels and turbines so the elements can be recycled and reused more effectively
- Execution – Increasing the conversion capacity of the turbines and panels
- Rare Metal Extraction – Lowering how much we need of these materials
The other option? We could find even newer and better ways to use all the sustainable sources of energy that exist on planet earth. But the point remains – we can’t sit still with our current tech. We must and can do better.
3. Decrease Your Consumption
Admittedly, this isn’t the sort of tip most of us want to read, but that makes it even more critical. Using less energy is a good thing for the planet – especially as the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables progresses. The fewer fossil fuels we use, the lower your carbon footprint, and the better the planet’s future.
Yes, we realize that we still need to use electricity and gas to make the world run. We’re not calling for any sort of return to faux pastoralism. Instead, we’re asking you to be more cautious with the kind of energy you do use and the context of how you use it.
If you need help with this, check out this list of ways to conserve energy at home.
4. Embrace the 4 R’s
We talk about the 4 R’s of green living all the time and for good reason. They are crucial for ensuring you achieve success with tip #3 around your home. We also believe in applying them to how the renewable energy industry pursues a path forward.
These specific steps include:
- Reduce rare earth metal consumption
- Reuse technology wherever possible
- Recycle materials in the technology
- Repurpose resources
Fans of sustainable energy should also be practitioners. Just because you sign up for an electricity plan backed by 100% solar power from a Texas solar farm doesn’t mean you can forget other ways to help the planet. For more guidance, check out these 25 tips on green living at home.
5. Accelerate International Cooperation
It’s called global warming for a reason, which means no one country has all the answers – much like one country shouldn’t bear the brunt of the responsibility. Conferences like the 2016 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Paris are a good start, but there must be a unified followthrough that focuses on holistic efforts.
Rising temperatures affect everyone, so the solutions must have the same impact. For renewable energy to overtake fossil fuels as the way people power their homes and businesses, we will all have to work together at adoption, research, development, and implementation.
Fossil Fuels Can Be Replaced by Renewable Energy – in Theory
As we’ve discussed before, we’re running out of the amount of fossil fuels we can feasibly extract from the earth. While it probably won’t happen for a few generations, we shouldn’t wait to make the transition to an all-renewable future until it’s necessary. We must take actionable steps to prepare our homes, businesses, energy grids, and economies for this change.
Is there a future where increased usage of sustainable energy can work in tandem with reduced fossil fuels? Absolutely – as many of the products we use to produce solar and wind power come from oil. There isn’t inherently anything wrong with using fossil fuels for our energy, but we’ve also overused them to the planet’s detriment.
Thus, even if we keep oil, coal, and natural gas in the energy mix, we need to find ways to use less of them. We can also make inroads to rid ourselves of fossil fuels entirely if we have the collective will. It often starts with individuals making the right choices for their own lives and then sharing the impact of those choices with their friends, family, local businesses, and government representatives.