I’ve always kept an open mind about nuclear power, but after four decades working on this issue, I’m still waiting for someone to prove me wrong.
Apart from a few visionaries in the early 1980s, no one really thought that renewables would be capable of substituting for the use of all fossil fuels and all nuclear at any point in the near future.
Happily, there is no longer any doubt about the viability of that alternative. In 2020, Stanford University issued a collection of 56 peer-reviewed journal articles, from 18 independent research groups, supporting the idea that all the energy required for electricity, transport, heating and cooling, and all industrial purposes, can be supplied reliably with 100% (or near 100%) renewable energy. The solutions involve transitioning ASAP to 100% renewable wind – water – solar (WWS), energy efficiency and energy storage.
There is of course a world of difference between electricity and total energy consumption. But at the end of April, Carbon Tracker brought out its latest analysis of the potential for renewables, convincingly explaining why solar and wind alone could meet total world energy demand 100 times over by 2050, and that fears about the amount of land this would require are unfounded. The land required for solar panels to provide all global energy would actually be significantly less than the current land footprint of fossil fuel infrastructure. As the report says:
“The only impediment to change is political. At the current 15% to 20% growth rates for solar and wind, fossil fuels will be pushed out of the electricity sector by the mid-2030s, and out of total energy supply by 2050. Poor countries will be greatest beneficiaries. They have the largest ratio of solar and wind potential to energy demand, and stand to unlock huge domestic benefits.”