Our Renewable Future

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* Book: Our Renewable Future. Laying the Path for One Hundred Percent Clean Energy. By Richard Heinberg and David Fridley. Island Press, 2016

URL = http://ourrenewablefuture.org/ [1]


"The next few decades will see a profound energy transformation throughout the world. By the end of the century (and perhaps sooner), we will shift from fossil fuel dependence to rely primarily on renewable sources like solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal power. Driven by the need to avert catastrophic climate change and by the depletion of easily accessible oil, coal, and natural gas, this transformation will entail a major shift in how we live. What might a 100% renewable future look like? Which technologies will play a crucial role in our energy future? What challenges will we face in this transition? And how can we make sure our new system is just and equitable?

In Our Renewable Future, energy expert Richard Heinberg and scientist David Fridley explore the challenges and opportunities presented by the shift to renewable energy. Beginning with a comprehensive overview of our current energy system, the authors survey issues of energy supply and demand in key sectors of the economy, including electricity generation, transportation, buildings, and manufacturing. In their detailed review of each sector, the authors examine the most crucial challenges we face, from intermittency in fuel sources to energy storage and grid redesign. The book concludes with a discussion of energy and equity and a summary of key lessons and steps forward at the individual, community, and national level.

The transition to clean energy will not be a simple matter of replacing coal with wind power or oil with solar; it will require us to adapt our energy usage as dramatically as we adapt our energy sources. Our Renewable Future is a clear-eyed and urgent guide to this transformation that will be a crucial resource for policymakers and energy activists." (http://www.islandpress.org/books/our-renewable-future)


From the introduction:

"he next few decades will see a profound and all-encompassing energy transformation throughout the world. Whereas society now derives the great majority of its energy from fossil fuels, by the end of the century we will depend primarily on renewable sources like solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal power.

Two irresistible forces will drive this historic transition.

The first is the necessity of avoiding catastrophic climate change. In December 2015, 196 nations unanimously agreed to limit global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures.[1] While some of this reduction could technically be achieved by carbon capture and storage from coal power plants, carbon sequestration in soils and forests, and other “negative emissions” technologies and efforts, the great majority of it will require dramatic cuts in fossil fuel consumption.

The second force driving a post-carbon energy shift is the ongoing depletion of the world’s oil, coal, and natural gas resources. Even if we do nothing to avoid climate change, our current energy regime remains unsustainable. Though Earth’s crust still holds enormous quantities of fossil fuels, economically useful portions of this resource base are much smaller, and the fossil fuel industry has typically targeted the highest-quality, easiest-to-access resources first.

All fossil fuel producers face the problem of declining resource quality, but the problem is most apparent in the petroleum sector. During the decade from 2005 to 2015, the oil industry’s costs of production rose by over 10 percent per year because the world’s cheap, conventional oil reserves—the “low-hanging fruit”—are now dwindling (fig. I.1). While new extraction technologies make lower-quality resources accessible (like tar sands and tight oil from fracking), these technologies require higher levels of investment and usually entail heightened environmental risks. World coal and gas supplies have yet to reach the same higher-cost tipping point; however, several recent studies suggest that the end of affordable supplies of these fuels may be years—not decades—away.[2] We will be consuming fossil fuels for many years to come, no doubt; but their decline is inevitable. We are headed to a nonfossil future whether we’re ready or not.

Nuclear fission power is not likely to play a larger role in our energy future than it does today, outside of China and a few other nations, if current trends continue. Indeed, high investment and (post-Fukushima) safety requirements, growing challenges of waste storage and disposal, and the risks of catastrophic accidents and weapons proliferation may together result in a significant overall shrinkage of the nuclear industry by the end of the century. Despite recent press reports about progress in hot fusion power and claims for “cold fusion,” these energy sources currently produce no commercial energy and—even if claims turn out to be justified—they are unlikely to do so on a significant scale for decades to come.

Fossil fuels are on their way out one way or another, and nuclear energy is a dead end. That leaves renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and biomass, to shoulder the burden of powering future society. While it is probably an oversimplification to say that people in the not-too-distant-future will inhabit a 100 percent renewably powered world, it is worth exploring what a complete, or nearly complete, shift in our energy systems would actually mean. Because energy is implicit not only in everything we do but also in the built environment around us (which requires energy for its construction, maintenance, and disposal/decommissioning), it is in effect the wellspring of our existence. As the world embarks on a transformative change in its energy sources, the eventual impacts may include a profound alteration of people’s personal and collective habits and expectations, as well as a transformation of the structures and infrastructure around us. Our lives, communities, and economies changed radically with the transition from wood and muscle power to fossil fuels, and so it is logical that a transition from fossil fuels to renewables—that is, a fundamental change in the quantity and quality of energy available to power human civilization—will also entail a major shift in how we live.

How would a 100 percent renewable world look and feel? How might the great-grandchildren of today’s college students move through a typical day without using fossil fuels either directly or indirectly? Where will their food come from? How will they get from place to place? What will the buildings they inhabit look like, and how will those buildings function? Visions of the future are always wrong in detail, and often even in broad strokes; but sometimes they can be wrong in useful ways. Scenario exercises can help us evaluate and prepare for a variety of outcomes, even if we don’t know precisely which reality will emerge. Further, by imagining the future we often help create it: advertisers and industrialists long ago learned that creative product developers, marketers, and commercial artists can shape the choices, actions, and expectations of entire societies. If we are embarking upon what may turn out to be history’s most significant energy transition, we should spend some effort now to imagine an all-renewable world, even though the exercise will inevitably involve guesswork and oversimplification." (http://ourrenewablefuture.org/)

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