The latest dire warnings from the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change again conclude that if the world is going to avoid meltdown then we need to move to renewable energy sources pretty sharpish.
Here in the UK, with less than 5% of our energy needs met by renewables, we’re still a long way from the official target of producing even 15% of our energy from renewable sources by 2020. The good news is that there’s an increasing number of reports, roadmaps and studies which all share the vision that the UK can obtain the majority of its energy from renewables.
WWF-UK, for example, concludes that by 2030 up to 90% of our electricity could come from a combination of solar, tidal, wind and other sustainable sources, with the rest supplied via an international supergrid and gas power stations.
It’s not just the UK that could look forward to a low-carbon future; Europe could meet at least 80% of its energy needs from renewables by 2050 without paying more for electricity than it would under the current fossil-fuel based infrastructure, according to the European Climate Foundation. But just how realistic are these targets and, crucially, will they ever attract the support of both government and industry?
“These goals are most definitely achievable,” concludes Paul Ekins, a member of the energy systems team at the UK Energy Research Centre. “The technologies are there, and enough of them have already been rolled out at scale in different countries for us to be clear that they work and that they can generate the power that we need.”
Alistair Cameron, renewable energy campaigner at Friends Of the Earth, agrees: “We can definitely do this. We’re on the verge of a massive technological transformation in the renewable energy sector, and the costs of solar and other renewable technologies are already rapidly falling.”
Despite the positive attitudes, a voice of caution comes from an unexpected corner. “Although future scoping is helpful for showing what’s technically possible,” says Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, the trade body for the UK’s renewables industry, “100% renewables by 2050 is not something we are calling for. Expanding renewable energy is very important, but calling for too much, too soon, when governments have so many other priorities, will not get you very far. The key thing is to keep the momentum going and the industry growing.”