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Energy runs everything and energy generated from fossil fuels have literally run our world for centuries. However, hidden costs of this fossil fuel ecosystem have seriously damaged human and environmental health.
Here’s why we need more of renewable energy and how major economies across the world are adopting it.
Why Do We Need Renewable Energy?
Climate change and environmental concerns have become pressing issues globally. The combined data from NOAA and NASA by Climate Central reveals that the five warmest years in the global record have all been in the 2010s while the 20 warmest years on record have been since 1995. The earth’s temperature has risen drastically in recent decades; 2017 so far was the warmest year on record.
Fossils have added to pollution and toxins to the environment and also causing increased number of occupational diseases. Each stage of the fossil fuel supply chain – extraction through mining and drilling, transportation (spills), burning, fuel waste has had multiple damaging effects on humans and to all the components of our environment—water, land and air.
Despite the fallout of using fossil fuel, there is still a shortage of basic resources like electricity. An estimated 1.1 billion people have no access to electricity while 2.8 billion are without access to clean cooking facilities.
The concerns about climate change brought nations together to sign the Paris Accord in December 2015. It is estimated that renewable energy (RE) and energy efficiency (EE) in developing countries will prevent 1.4 gigatons of emissions by 2020 and implementing these projects in developing countries can go a long way to making up shortfalls in Paris climate pledges, according to a report by UNEP and Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The worldwide investment in renewable energy touched $279.8 billion in 2017, taking cumulative investment since 2004 to $2.9 trillion. Globally, the percentage of electricity generated by renewables was at 12.1% in 2017. This reduced carbon dioxide emissions of about 1.8 gigatons as per the UNEP report.
China’s energy demands have been rising constantly and so has its need to shift away from fossils such as coal. In 2017, China made massive investments ($126.6 billion) into renewable energy, amounting to 45% of the global total. In the beginning of 2017, China committed $361 billion into renewable energy and energy efficiency by 2020.
The 13th Renewable Energy Development Five Year Plan (2016-2020) was adopted by National Energy Administration in December 2016 which aims to increase the share of non-fossil energy in total primary energy consumption to 15% by 2020 and to 20% by 2030. It is estimated to create over 13 million jobs in mainland China.
The data from Europe shows that the share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption was 17% in 2016, a gradual rise from 10.5% in 2007 and 13.2% in 2011. The percentage share of renewable energy in electricity was at 29.6% in 2016, much higher than 16.1% in 2007. Iceland (72.6%), Norway (69.4%) and Sweden (53.8%) had the highest percentage contribution coming from renewable energy in final energy consumption.
The Indian government has set a target of 175 GW renewable power installed capacity by the end of 2022; this includes 60 GW from wind power, 100 GW from solar power, 10 GW from biomass power and 5 GW from small hydro power projects. The country now ranks 4th and 6th respectively in global wind and solar power installed capacity. In the last four years, solar energy capacity increased by over 8 times while wind energy capacity increased by 1.6 times.
The shift towards indigenous renewable resources is expected to reduce India’s import bill considerably given that it is the fourth largest importer of oil and the 15th largest importer of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG)
In 2017, renewable energy sources accounted for about 11% of total U.S. energy consumption and about 17% of electricity generation. Based on the current technologies, the Renewable Electricity Futures Study (RE Futures) predicts that renewable electricity generation will supply 80% of total electricity by 2050. The renewable energy investment in the U.S. was at $40.5 billion in 2017.
While quantifying the macroeconomic impact of doubling the global share of renewables by 2030, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) projects an increase to global GDP (by up to 1.1%), improved welfare (up to 3.7%) and creation over 24 million jobs in the sector.
Thus, renewable energy is not just the way to cleaner, safer, and healthier energy future. It is poised to ensure energy security, meet electricity shortages and make energy accessible, while enhancing economic benefits in terms of healthier economic growth and employment.