How Long Will It Take to Replace Fossil Fuels With Renewable Sources of Energy?

Reader Contribution by Kayla Matthews
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The world is racing to replace fossil fuels with renewable sources and for good reason. People understandably ask, “How long will it take to replace fossil fuels?”

The answer isn’t straightforward. However, here’s some information that might help.

The Importance of Cost

Some people think cost is the primary reason societies are switching to renewables. According to one study, renewable energy already out-competes oil. While coal is cheaper, technological advances and emission pricing schemes may boost solar, wind power and the like to the top.

Prices for renewable energy are falling, making it competitive with non-renewables. As a result, a transition to sustainable alternatives is taking place across the world. This change, however, doesn’t suggest a time-frame for complete fossil fuel replacement.

As more industries realize the potential for renewable energy, others will be more likely to accelerate their transitions. Each eco-friendly choice is a step toward total replacement.

What Experts Have to Say

When we ask experts how long will it take to replace fossil fuels, some say it could happen relatively quickly. Andrew Blakers and Matthew Stocks of Australian National University believe the world is on track to reach 100% renewable energy by 2032. Their research shows solar and wind energy is growing fast enough to surpass coal by the mid-2020s.

Blakers and Stocks claim wind and solar power currently produce about 7% of the world’s electricity. It may not seem like a lot, but, over the past five years, solar capacity grew by 28% each year. Wind capacity grew at a rate of 13% per year. These figures, combined with the stagnation of coal power, lead to the 2032 forecast.

On the other side of the spectrum is Shell, a well-known oil and gas mega-corp. In 2017, they produced 3.7 million barrels of oil per day. In Shell’s Sky scenario, they imagine a world that complies with the Paris climate agreement. Shell claims they support the idea to keep the Earth’s warming below 3.6° Fahrenheit. In this scenario, the world will achieve net-zero emissions by 2070.

Still, we won’t replace fossil fuels — they’ll only decline. Plus, Sky is merely a scenario — a possibility that’s dependent on a number of assumptions. It’ll take significant time, effort and government backing to ensure large-scale change becomes a reality.

The Substantial Impacts of Change

Back in 2014, analysts highlighted WTI and Brent crude oil prices on a downward trend. Signs suggest people are looking at new ways to meet energy needs. However, as we transition to renewables, it’s essential to consider all possible impacts.

We can’t shut down fossil fuel plants overnight. Consider the job losses and those with careers in the industry. Bernie Sanders, a 2020 candidate for President, plans to eliminate fossil fuels by 2050. However, he recognizes the associated losses. Sanders claims protections will be in place for affected workers. He also believes his plan will create 20 million jobs.

Industries that rely on fossil fuels will also feel the effects of a total switch. Businesses must be open to a new status quo. Agreeing to give up fossil fuels and invest in renewables will spur change. According to one study based on existing technology, full decarbonization of the U.S. electric grid would cost $4.5 trillion.

Government leaders must commit to renewables, too. China, the United States and India consume 54% of the world’s fossil fuels by weight. Moreover, worldwide usage for fossil fuels equals almost 15 billion metric tons.

Individuals and companies can make changes through purposeful, collective action. However, the nation’s leaders must adjust their budgets for an effective transition.

Is a Transition to Totally Renewable Energy Possible?

Some nations. like Denmark and Scotland, get all of their power from wind for brief periods. However, analysts are unsure if some countries can produce 100% renewable energy.

Michael Kelly, a professor at Cambridge University, has concerns about the energy return on investment (EROI) for renewables. EROI looks at the energy a source produces vs. energy invested in making it.

In the case of renewables, we produce wind turbines or solar panels. What’s the cost to make one solar panel compared to how much power it can produce? 

Kelly claims EROI for renewables is lower than fossil fuels. As a result, investing in renewables for worldwide electricity could leave less energy for other activities.

Critics, on the other hand, say Kelly’s analysis is based on studies from more than five years ago. Since then, solar and wind costs have plummeted.

Can We Fully Replace Fossil Fuels?

How long will it take to replace fossil fuels? The truth is, no one knows. The answer is dependent on many things, from implementation costs to the nation’s infrastructure.

For now, focus on establishing eco-friendly habits while continuing to use fossil fuels. Buy a hybrid car or choose a renewable-powered electric provider. Each small step will lead to a significant change.

Photo by Photo by Andreas Gücklhorn on Unsplash

Kayla Matthews has been writing about healthy living for several years and is proud to be a featured writer on a number of inspiring health sites, including Mother Earth News. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on ProductivityTheory.com. You can read all of her Mother Earth News posts here.


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