Mapping the energy transition

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President,
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The world’s economy is driven by energy consumption based on using fossil fuels to produce goods and services. As environmental damages from fossil fuel consumption continue to rise advocates call for replacing them with renewable energy sources by 2050. While the goal of 100 percent replacement may not be necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change, Ugo Bardi provides a rough estimate of the annual rate of replacement of fossil fuels essential to keeping the rise in average global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius.

Bardi postulates we could maintain the world’s economy on an annual average of five terrawatts (one million million watts or one billion kilowatts) of renewable energy. To approach that level we need to add 800 GW per year over the next 30 years, which is six times greater than today’s rate of 134 GW/year. The annual investment in renewable energy of $300 billion would need to increase to $2 trillion to make the transition. If the annual investment in fossil of $1 trillion/year ceased the funds could be directed to the renewable transition.

The scope of the needed transition makes clear the intensity of the political battles around our energy future. The sun alone provides the planet with 170,000 terrawatts of energy per year which is 44 times greater than the potential of wind energy.  With nearly 40 percent of the roofs in the Midwest suitable for solar energy, rooftop solar provides a major clean energy option.

According to a posting by MSN, since more of the sun’s energy hits the Earth (in a day – our calculation) than humanity uses in a year, by 2030 all electrical demands could be met by solar power with panels covering 191,817 square miles of land. That seems like a lot of land, but it’s less than 0.2 percent of the earth’s surface (our calculations), approximately the size of Spain. Collectors would be scattered over the entire globe. Today, the job would cost $294 trillion, but when avoided health costs and climate change impacts are considered, it’s a reasonable amount. MSN believes that the future of energy will rely on solar, “wind, hydro, and whatever else we dream up.”

While our annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair is exceedingly modest considering the tremendous implications of the energy transition, we are pleased to offer the event to provide others with a sense of available energy options for Illinois and for individuals.

Allen Penticoff will provide information comparing the carbon footprint of electric vehicles to conventionally powered vehicles. The information may surprise some and please others. Len Salvig will present the advantages of new battery technology in storing energy from renewable sources. Dave Merrill will relate optimistic alternatives in rooftop solar installed on individual homes in north central Illinois. Margaret McCall from the Rocky Mountain Institute will talk about local impacts of new energy technologies and explore their implications for your energy bill, your community, and the electric grid.

Learn how you can become part of the new energy world.

Major sponsors of the Fair are the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Rock River Times and the Ogle County Solid Waste Management Department.

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