In April of 2017, a team of researchers led by Benjamin Heard, an environmental consultant in Australia, declared that powering the world with 100% renewable energy was a scientific impossibility. Too complicated, too complex, too many technical snarls to be untangled, too unreliable — you get the picture. Here is a line from the introduction to that report.
“An effective response to climate change demands rapid replacement of fossil carbon energy sources. This must occur concurrently with an ongoing rise in total global energy consumption. While many modeled scenarios have been published claiming to show that a 100% renewable electricity system is achievable, there is no empirical or historical evidence that demonstrates that such systems are in fact feasible.”
This week, another group of scientists has hit back at the Heard report. Their research, published in the same journal as the original Heard report, begins with this statement: “While several of the issues raised by the Heard paper are important, you have to realize that there are technical solutions to all the points they raised, using today’s technology.” It may help to understand this debate to know that Benjamin Heard is a committed advocate for nuclear power.
The new research was conducted by a team of scientists at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Lappeenranta University of Technology, Delft University of Technology, and Aalborg University. They combed through hundreds of scientific studies to reach their results and collected examples of best practice by grid operators from across the world from Denmark to Tasmania.
“There are some persistent myths that 100% renewable systems are not possible. Our contribution deals with these myths one-by-one, using all the latest research,” writes Professor Brian Vad Mathiesen of Aalborg University. “Now let’s get back to the business of modelling low cost scenarios to eliminate fossil fuels from our energy system, so we can tackle the climate and health challenges they pose.”
Dr. Tom Brown of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and lead author of the report, adds, “While several of the issues raised by the Heard paper are important, you have to realize that there are technical solutions to all the points they raised, using today’s technology.” Co-author Christian Breyer of Lappeenranta University of Technology has more to say on the subject. “Furthermore, these solutions are absolutely affordable, especially given the sinking costs of wind and solar power.”
“Today marks the commencement of construction of one of the world’s most innovative renewable energy projects,” Neoen Australia boss Franck Woitiez tells RenewEconomy. “It is delivering dispatchable, sustainable and competitive energy to Nectar Farms and Victorian consumers. It shows that energy transition is (happening) now. Coal is a thing of the past.”
The Bulgana installation proves how renewable energy can have a positive effect on a local economy. Nectar Farms is Australia’s largest indoor vegetable grower but it was ready to quit the country and move its operations overseas, taking hundreds of jobs with it. But now with the promise of 100% renewable energy available to power its growing activities, it has decided to stay and expand in the area.
“This project will make the advanced agriculture facility the world’s first ever crop farm to be completely powered by renewable energy,” says Victoria’s energy minister Lucy D’Ambrosio. “This is an exciting next step in delivering affordable, sustainable and clean energy — creating jobs right across Victoria. We’re reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the Bulgana Green Power Hub is helping us meet our ambitious renewable energy targets.”
The project was made possible when the state of Victoria stepped up and signed a 15-year power purchase agreement that will allow the excess electricity created by by the Bulgana facility to be distributed to Victoria residents via the local utility grid.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, Germany obtained all of its electricity from renewable sources for a few hours on May 1.
Yes, it happened on a holiday weekend when demand was relatively low and yes, it resulted from a happy coincidence of abundant sunshine in some parts of the country and steady breezes in others, but it is a harbinger of things to come.Talking about 100% renewable energy just a decade ago would have seemed like madness to most people, just as talk of electric automobiles in 2008 was considered a pipe dream. Change seems to take forever to get here until one day, BAM! We wake up and find everything has changed while we were sleeping. Our grandchildren won’t think 100% renewable energy is any big deal. And that’s a good thing.
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