EnergyRenewable Energy

What’s the real price tag of renewable energy for the planet?

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A new Stanford study calculated the cost of global renewable energy would be $62 trillion (yes, with a “t”). But the big upfront investment would create jobs, drastically reduce carbon emissions, and pay for itself in just six years.It was hot this summer—record-shatteringly hot, in many places. And the extreme heat around the world in the last few months is only one symptom of the climate change caused by greenhouse gasses, which are released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels like coal and gas burn—more extreme droughtswildfires, flooding, storms, and unseasonable weather patterns are also symptoms.Unless we significantly curb how much coal and gas we burn in the next few decades, scientists are pretty much in agreement that the consequences will keep getting more severe. One of the simplest ways to cut back greenhouse gas emissions is in how the electricity we use is generated. Even though the current system is dominated by coal, oil, and natural gas, the technology for producing energy from renewable sources like wind, hydro, and solar is effective, available, and increasingly economical.

new study by Stanford engineer Mark Jacobson and his team published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science calculates that the world would need to spend around $62 trillion to build up the wind, solar, and hydro power generating capacity to fully meet demand and completely replace fossil fuels. That looks like a huge number, even spread out across the 145 countries cited in the study. But after crunching the numbers, estimates show that countries would make the money back in cost-savings in a relatively short period of time: Between one to five years.The study also projected that shifting to 100 percent renewable energy generation would result in a net increase of over 28 million jobs when factoring in the fossil fuel industry jobs that would be lost. It also only requires 0.36 percent more land than is currently used for energy generation, addressing two major concerns about switching from fossil fuels to renewables.Making the shift, and soon, is important to slow and limit planetary warming. The study called for 100 percent clean energy by 2035 ideally, and 2050 at the latest, with an interim goal of 80 percent by 2030. This lines up with the roadmap laid out in the UN’s most recent climate report and the Paris Agreement, a 2015 international treaty for climate action that includes reducing global emissions to net-zero by 2050 to avoid worst-case levels of warming.

There’s potential to really move the needle on greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning the energy sector (which in many analyses includes transportation, industrial energy consumption, and individual use for things like heating homes and keeping the lights on), since it accounted for roughly 73 percent of all global emissions in 2021.The study’s projections are in line with current energy trends, as we’re seeing renewable sources growing more economical than fossil fuels. In 2019, about 81 percent of the world’s energy came from coal, oil, and less-polluting (but still not totally clean) natural gas. But new energy infrastructure is already dominated by renewable sources: Around half of the new generating capacity built last year is wind, solar, and hydro.Historically, cost was a major limitation for renewable energy projects. The price tag is still a factor, but the tide is turning in favor of renewable energy sources in a big way.

According to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the new renewables installed in 2021—two-thirds of which generated the same amount of energy for less than the cheapest coal power—saved an estimated cumulative $55 billion this year.

“2022 is a stark example of just how economically viable new renewable power generation has become,” says Francesco La Camera, IRENA’s director general, in a press release. “Renewable power frees economies from volatile fossil fuel prices and imports, curbs energy costs and enhances market resilience—even more so if today’s energy crunch continues.”


Source: Miyo McGinn |

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