Photo: © Oleksii Sidorov/

Wind, water and solar – enough to solve the climate crisis

The payback time for a transition to a completely renewable energy system is less than six years. Additionally, it would require only about 0.53% of the world’s land for new energy which is less than the land required for the current energy system.

The results from new technology such as Carbon Capture and Storage are disappointing but the technologies needed to address the climate crisis already exists and is affordable.

To avoid 1.5°C of global warming we need to eliminate 80 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions within the next seven years. The average global temperature is currently 1.1°C above the pre-industrial average and the climate crisis is already causing catastrophic damage. In addition, the world is facing serious energy-security risks. The best solution to these challenges is one that can be implemented quickly and at low cost. New studies have shown that carbon capture and storage (CCS) and nuclear do not meet these requirements but that wind, water and solar do (WWS) . Their costs are mostly low and dropping, and implementing WWS has multiple co-benefits.

A new report has cast doubt on the ability of CCS to help the world transition to net zero. The report, by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), studied 13 projects involving CCS or Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS). These 13 CCS/CCUS projects account for around 55 per cent of capacity worldwide. It found that 7 of the 13 projects underperformed, 2 failed and 1 was mothballed. Many of the projects covered involve enhanced oil recovery (EOR), where carbon dioxide, mainly sourced from naturally occurring underground deposits, is reinjected and sequestered in oil fields to extract more oil. Globally, 21 out of the 28 existing operational projects involve EOR. About three-quarters (28 million tonnes) of the carbon dioxide captured annually by CCUS facilities worldwide is reinjected through EOR.

“Many international bodies and national governments are relying on carbon capture in the fossil fuel sector to get to net zero, and it simply won’t work,” says Bruce Robertson analyst at IEEFA and one of the report’s author. “Although it might have a role to play in hard-to-abate sectors such as cement, fertilisers and steel, overall results indicate a financial, technical and emissions-reduction framework that continues to overstate and underperform.”

Another technology that has recently risen up the political agenda is nuclear power. New nuclear suffers from a 10 to 21-year time lag between planning and operation. Thus, it won’t be useful for immediately addressing the climate crisis. The costs are also 5–8 times higher than new wind and solar per unit energy. Additionally, the risks includes weapons proliferation, meltdown, waste disposal and underground uranium mining health hazards. Bioenergy produces air pollution and greenhouse gases while using vast amounts of land and water.

The enormous problems associated with climate change can be solved with WWS combined with storage solutions at low cost worldwide. The storage options include battery storage, thermal storage, cold storage and hydrogen storage. Other important aspects are techniques to encourage people to shift the times when they use electricity, a well-interconnected electrical transmission system as well as efficient electrical appliances, such as heat pumps, induction cooktops, electric vehicles and electric furnaces for industry.

The main reason for the low cost of the WWS system is that it wastes much less energy than combustion-based energy system. If WWS systems were implemented globally, they would reduce total energy use by over 56 percent. The reductions are due to multiple advantages: the efficiency of electric vehicles over combustion vehicles, the efficiency of electric heat pumps for air and water heating over combustion heaters, the efficiency of electrified industry and the elimination of energy needed to obtain fossil fuels and uranium.

A WWS system also reduces the cost per unit of energy by another 12 per cent on average, resulting in a 63 per cent lower annual energy cost worldwide. When savings in health and climate costs are factored in it means an overall 92 per cent reduction in annual social costs (energy, health and climate costs combined) relative to a conventional system.

And now to the issue of costs, which is always brought up in WWS discussions. The worldwide cost of implementing a WWS system by 2050 is around 62 thousand US dollars but due to the 11 thousand US dollars annual energy cost savings, the payback time is less than six years. Additionally, the new system could create over 28 million more long-term, full-time jobs than are lost worldwide, and require only about 0.53 per cent of the world’s land for new energy, which is less than required for the current energy system.

Furthermore, 95 per cent of the technology needed for the WWS transition is already available. The missing elements are long-distance aircraft and ships, and some industrial technologies, but the knowledge of how to transition to those technologies already exists. What is needed at this stage is social acceptance and the political willpower to bring about change.


Based on the article of a interview with Prof Mark Jacobson



In this issue