The hot topic of a renewable energy future has been debated for a number of years now, but recent successes show that a 100% renewable energy future may just be possible. Earlier this month, Portugal ran off sustainable electricity for four whole days (107 hours) – showing that it is possible to power a country with renewables alone.
A real-life experiment
From 6.45am on Saturday 7 May until 5.45pm on Wednesday 11 May, Portugal ditched fossil fuels in favour of solar, wind, and hydro power. The country, which has been investing in renewables for a while now, wanted to see just how far its efforts could take them.
While Portugal’s 100% renewable energy trial proved to be a success, it’s important to keep in mind their advantage – the sun. With a lack of sunshine in other European countries, such as the UK, power from renewables like solar would be more of a challenge.
Assessing the practicalities
To assess whether a country, like the UK, could run off 100% renewables, a few things have to be considered. We need to understand how much solar, wind, and biogas power can be generated and stored, as well as how our demand for power varies. Simulation studies, based on current data, are a good way to get to grips with the stats and see if a renewable energy future is really possible.
A renewable energy future forecast
In 2015, Demand Energy Equality carried out a simulation study, similar to that described above, and found that by 2030, it would be possible for the UK to use mostly (80%) renewable energy. Using information from 11 years of weather data, analysts were able to model hour-by-hour electricity demand and supply from renewable energy.
To make the move to a renewable energy future possible, the study also highlighted the need for the following:
- A need to use less energy
To move forward, we need to reduce the amount of gas used to heat our homes and the amount of petrol required to power our cars. Electric heating, electric cars, and better home insulation are just some of the measures we’ll need to get us there. This will be a challenge to tackle in such a short time.
- An increase in wind turbines and solar panels
The report suggests the UK would need a 47% increase in turbines in the next few years – and a similar increase in solar panels.
- Combining power generation and heating
New gas plants, which combine power generation with industrial or district heating, would also be required to ensure the back-up we need to move to renewables.
- Smart energy measures
The use of smart energy measures, such as smart meters and batteries, were said to be critical to making a renewable future possible. What’s more, this idea was one of the cheapest and most efficient solutions put forward.
These ideas all offer food for thought and show how the move to a renewable energy future is possible. But how soon – we’re yet to know.