Study: 100% global energy system feasible

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Academics and researchers on opposing sides of the debate surrounding the global energy transition continue to publish papers in support of their position. The latest finds that an 100% renewable global energy system is not only achievable, but feasible.

Last September, the academic journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Review published the article: “Burden of proof: A comprehensive review of the feasibility of renewable-electricity systems” authored by a group of Australian scientists lead by Benjamin Heard. The paper questioned the feasibility of a comprehensive energy supply based on renewable resources.

To counter this position, a group of global energy transition academics authored a rebuttal: “Response to ‘Burden of proof: A comprehensive review of the feasibility of 100% renewable-electricity systems’”, which was published in the same journal. The conclusion: there are neither fundamental technical nor financial barriers on the path to a 100% renewable energy system.

Scientists of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Lappeenranta University of Technology, Delft University of Technology and the University of Aalborg contributed to the paper.

According to the team behind the response, a review and analyses of hundreds of studies provides ample evidence to counter every single argument raised in Heard’s “Burden of proof” paper. The arguments raised by Heard referred to spatial limitations required to build solar PV and wind parks, or the challenges of overcoming times when there is no wind and no sun.  Another argument was that renewable energy generation strains grids to the extent at which repetitive power outages must be expected.

“Even though, some of the questions raised by the Heard et.al. article are relevant, it is important to note that for all the raised question there are solutions based on currently available technology”, writes the rebuttal’s lead author Tim Brown. He leads a research group at KIT’s institute for automation and applied informatics, which models the design of the energy system of the future.

According to Brown’s expertise, occasions of a coinciding lack of wind and sun can be compensated through importing of energy, hydro power, bio-gas and mass, battery storage and other means. If that is insufficient, it is also possible to transform wind and solar power into hydrogen or synthetic natural gas, which can be used as fuel for power stations – when required.

“Furthermore, such technical solutions are absolutely financially accessible, especially considering the effect of decreasing costs of wind and solar PV on the costs of primary energy generation”, adds Christian Beyer, of Lappeenranta University of Technology, who co-authored the rebuttal.

“There are several intractable myths around the impossibility of a 100% renewable energy system”, states co-author Brian Vad Mathiesen of the University of Aalborg, Denmark. “Our journal article discusses these myths, one after the other, using the latest scientific data.”

Mathiesen urges scientists to base their inquiries on the truly important questions. According to Danish researcher, they are: “the modelling of renewable development paths in order to eliminate fossil fuels from the energy system and thus overcome the challenges to the climate and health issues.”