Leonardo di Caprio came to COP23. Sadly, he did not come personally, but his foundation (The Leonardo di Caprio Foundation) did.
And it brought an speaker: an engaged researcher, Doctor Sven Teske, from the University of Technology Sydney. Well, he is also quite handsome and very smart. Sven has been researching renewable energies for many years. Believe us, he is an expert.
Sven told us about a model that his university, together with other two, is now developing. The model will show how the world will develop when going for 100% renewables in 2050. That is ambitious, but it would make a happier world. This scenario compared to business as usual (fossil fuel energy) is 25% less costly, will create 24 million long-term jobs, avoid 4$ million dollar in pollution related deaths and save 20$ trillion on health and climate disaster. The amazing thing is that going for 100% renewables is actually more profitable than continuing with fossil fuels. The first recommendation from Sven is that governments should stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry with the annual 5.3$ trillion and invest instead all that money in renewables. The figures we mentioned above is something everybody will like, except for those old fossils like the conservatives in the fossil fuel industry. The very fact that the fossil fuel industry is still alive seems more a matter of conservative economics than of economic profitability. Let alone all the other damage this industry causes.
The model is a clear storyline of how things could develop in different regions of the world and countries can use it to see how and when they would have to take steps. And they could also see what their limitations and options would be.
For example, some region might have to go for solar, other for wind. If there is no idea how, things will never happen. And the model can show us, and world leaders, how they can go to the 100% renewables. What makes this model super interesting is that it excludes CO2 storage underground -and we have never heard anyone proposing this- and that neglects nuclear power, as being also unsustainable. Sven paints clearly the reason why: “I don’t see how you can build a business model around CO2 storage. We ask future generations to pay for the storage of CO2 from which we NOW profit. There is no money in that. Therefore it should all be subsidized.” And “nuclear energy is also based on an ending resource and it represents now less than 1% of the total energy mix.” In Germany for example 21 nuclear power plants were dismantled. The cost of dismantling one is pretty much the same as constructing a new one; it is extremely expensive.
There are also some unknowns towards a 100% renewable energy future. The electricity and building sectors are okay as far as renewable energy is concerned. Usable renewable techniques and practices are there. The most problematic ones are transportation and industry, for example steel furnaces or aluminum industry. Will ships go for electric battery, biofuels or hydrogen, with auxiliary sails? Sven wonders. Will airplanes fly on biofuels, and will this be feasible? More Research and Development (R&D) is absolutely needed. Sven also suggests to use existing fossil fuel infrastructure, for example gas pipelines to distribute or store green-produced hydrogen fuel. He also breaks a leg for upscaling wind and solar energy. “They say wind and solar are unpredictable, but if you have one incident in a fossil plant, there is an immediate big drop in power supply. Wind and solar change much more gradually”. Of course, wind or solar surplus will create energy that is not easy to use, but there are promising projects to store energy, as rotational energy in windmills.
It was very inspiring to see that a 100% renewable future is very possible. We already knew that renewables are morally the best option. However, the beauty is that the economic incentive is also there. The main obstacle seems to be to change the rusty minds of the industrials and politicians. To change the old behavior where the fossil industry is both directly and indirectly subsidized. Calculating health costs, ecological damage and so on, fossil fuels are simply more expensive than renewables. The model enables us to convince population and leaders about how change is possible and how this will be profitable for economy, well-being and the future generations.