Renewable and Clean Energies: The possibility of a zero-carbon future through decarbonisation.

Over the past decades, we have experienced a noticeable change in our global temperatures. They are getting warmer by the day and the repercussions can be felt all over the world; Recently, record-breaking temperatures and months of severe droughts, have fuelled a series of massive bushfires across Australia, causing the loss of human lives and devastating damages overall... The rise in temperatures is mainly caused by our carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. At the moment, the level of carbon dioxide is higher than at anytime in human history. One of the best ways to stop our temperatures from increasing is to get our CO2 emissions down to zero through decarbonisation. Decarbonising the power sector, means reducing its carbon intensity: that is, reducing the emissions per unit of electricity generated (often given in grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour).

Our emissions come primarily through the massive consumption of fossil fuels (i.e. Petroleum, Coal, Natural Gas and Orimulsion). In an effort to fight climate changes, governments have invested, for a considerable amount of time, in solar and wind energies to balance out with the high consumption of fossil energy; they have tried to encourage their people to turn to clean energy and also tried to trigger behavioural changes. But most people end up making economic decisions rather than decisions that would positively impact climate changes.

Once the economics revolving around fossil energy is completely shifted towards the economics of clean and renewable energies, we will experience a drastic change in our CO2 emissions.

Around the 70s and 80s, the cost to harness solar and wind energies were tremendously high compared to the cost of harnessing coal or gas; Governments had to subsidise the clean energy industry, which turned out to be very expensive, forcing them halt the process. But we have, since then, noticed a drastic drop in prices, giving us hope that we could be moving towards a cleaner energy consumption, thus reducing our carbon footprint.

As seen from the chart above (source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance, National Renewable Laboratories, Freeing Energy), around 2017, the cost of Solar was about $0.25 per watt. This was due to the fact that, in most sunny parts of the world, governments have realised that, building a new solar power plant will produce electricity much more cheaply than building a coal power plant.

According to the second chart (source: US Energy Information Administration), by 2040, 29% of power generation will be provided by renewable energy, up from 22% in 2012. From those two charts we observe that it is no longer a question of when will we completely decarbonise the energy sector, but it is a question of how fast that will happen.

Last week, the price of crude oil collapsed as petrol pump prices plummeted. Although oil does not directly compete with solar and wind, it does compete with the electrification of transport, regardless of what is powering that electricity. Many believe that transportation will shift to electricity, for various reasons: the batteries are plunging in cost, electric vehicles have fewer moving parts, so they have a low maintenance cost and having an electric car helps reduce our carbon print. if we manage to make electricity cheap enough and invest in cleaner electricity, it will make it easier to electrify other sectors and power them with clean energy.

According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, 72% of all human carbon emissions come from Energy consumption (electricity and heat, transportation, fuel combustion, etc...); while Agriculture, Land-use change (deforestation) and Industrial processes (making steel, cement, petrochemicals, plastics, etc...) have a combined percentage of 23. One major way to tackle these issues, is by cleaning up the production of energy through decarbonising our electrical system, meaning using solar, wind and other renewable energies to produce electricity. The more clean energy is produced, the cheaper it becomes and the sooner we can turn away from fossils fuels. As our electrical system becomes clean, that energy can be used to power other industries, thus drastically reducing our carbon emissions.

As the #COVID-19 pandemic continues to have devastating effects on the world and on our global economy, we may be going towards a major global recession. Governments will more likely have to spend a lot of funds to get our economy back on track and provide job opportunities. This could be a convenient time to build out much more renewable energy frameworks, grids, electric vehicle charging infrastructures, to give incentives to people to buy new electric vehicles, to give businesses incentives to invest in clean energy. This could not only be an opportunity for massive investment from governments but also, it would have a lasting positive impact on the planet.

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