Sustainable Energy Solutions for Climate Change

Mark Diesendorf, author of Sustainable Energy Solutions for Climate Change, discusses his book on the Routledge Sustainability Blog.

At one conceptual level, we can understand the current destruction of the environment and the associated damage to society and economy in terms of three driving forces: population, consumption per person and inappropriate technology. Arguably the most destructive environmental change is what we have done to Earth’s climate, resulting primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels by increasing numbers of people with increasing levels of personal consumption. Accompanying the emission of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels is air and water pollution and land degradation. The human socio-economy is also threatened by its excessive dependence upon fossil fuels at a time when the peak in global oil production is imminent and a peak in global coal production is forecast to occur before 2050.

My book, Sustainable Energy Solutions for Climate Change, shows that we already have most of the safe, ecologically sustainable technologies needed to substitute for fossil fuels. We also have a wide portfolio of potential policies that could be applied to drive the Great Transition to energy systems based on the efficient use of renewable energy. The principal barriers are no longer technological or economic. Instead they arise from the political power of vested interests.

The big greenhouse gas polluters and their supporters have a dominating influence on the energy policies of many governments. In their campaigns to slow down the inevitable spread of sustainable energy, they disseminate through the media false and misleading myths denigrating renewable energy and energy efficiency.

One of the principal myths is that renewable energy is too unreliable to supply base-load electricity demand and hence cannot power an industrial society. However, several research groups around the world, including the team I belong to at the University of New South Wales, have busted this myth. We have simulated electricity demand and supply from 80–100 per cent renewable energy for each hour over one or more years, using real climate and electricity data. We have shown that different mixes of commercially available renewable energy technologies could supply national and regional electricity systems with the same reliability as the existing polluting system.

Another myth refuted in the book is the claim that a 100 per cent renewable electricity system would be unaffordable. To the contrary, some studies have shown that by 2030–2050 renewable energy systems are likely to be less expensive than any low carbon electricity system based on fossil fuels, including gas power and coal power with carbon capture and storage (if it ever becomes commercially available).

Among the other myths busted in the book are claims that renewable energy is too diffuse; that renewable energy technologies need much research and development before they can be scaled up; and that energy efficiency is futile because of the so-called ‘rebound effect’ (money saved by energy efficiency is spent on using more energy). In reality, relatively small areas of marginal land and rooftops could be used to collect renewable energy; most of the needed renewable energy technologies are already commercially available and are far more mature than fossil fuel power with carbon capture and storage and fourth generation nuclear energy; and the magnitude of the ‘rebound effect’ has been exaggerated and it can be easily managed by appropriate government policies.
Thus the book presents the case that the principal barriers to the great transition a sustainable energy world are no longer technological or economic, but rather are ideological and political—they can be overcome.

However, although technological change is necessary and could be implemented within a few decades, given the political will, it is not sufficient. We must still address the growth in population and economic activity on our finite planet. The book summarises non-coercive population policies and draws attention to the small but growing body of research that indicates that prosperity without economic growth may be feasible. A better future is possible. Let’s create it!

  • Sustainable Energy Solutions for Climate Change

    1st Edition

    By Mark Diesendorf

    Renewable energy expert Mark Diesendorf issues a powerful challenge in this clear and comprehensive guide to the technology and policies we need to adopt to ensure an ecologically sustainable energy future for the planet. Sustainable Energy Solutions for Climate Change brings together the science,…

    Paperback – 2014-05-23
    Routledge