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Running on renewables: how sure can we be about the future?

Alternative Energy

A variety of models predict the role renewables will play in 2050, but some may be over-optimistic, and should be used with caution, say researchers.

The proportion of UK energy supplied by renewable energies is increasing every year; in 2017 wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectricity produced as much energy as was needed to power the whole of Britain in 1958.

However, how much the proportion will rise by 2050 is an area of great debate. Now, researchers at Imperial College London have urged caution when basing future energy decisions on over-optimistic models that predict that the entire system could be run on renewables by the middle of this century.

Mathematical models are used to provide future estimates by taking into account factors such as the development and adoption of new technologies to predict how much of our energy demand can be met by certain energy mixes in 2050.

These models can then be used to produce ‘pathways’ that should ensure these targets are met – such as through identifying policies that support certain types of technologies.

However the models are only as good as the data and underlying physics they are based on, and some might not always reflect ‘real-world’ challenges. For example, some models do not consider power transmission, energy storage, or system operability requirements.

Reliable supply issues

Now, in a paper published in the journal Joule, Imperial researchers have shown that studies that predict whole systems can run on near-100% renewable power by 2050 may be flawed as they do not sufficiently account for reliability of the supply.

Using data for the UK, the team tested a model for 100% power generation using only wind, water and solar (WWS) power by 2050. They found that the lack of firm and dispatchable ‘backup’ energy systems – such as nuclear or power plants equipped with carbon capture systems – means the power supply would fail often enough that the system would be deemed inoperable.

The team found that even if they added a small amount of backup nuclear and biomass energy, creating a 77% WWS system, around 9% of the annual UK demand could remain unmet, leading to considerable power outages and economic damage.

Truly informed decisions

Lead author Clara Heuberger, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, said: “Mathematical models that neglect operability issues can mislead decision makers and the public, potentially delaying the actual transition to a low carbon economy.

If a specific scenario relies on a combination of hypothetical and potentially socially challenging adaptation measures, in addition to disruptive technology breakthroughs, this begins to feel like wishful thinking. Dr Niall Mac Dowell

“Research that proposes ‘optimal’ pathways for renewables must be upfront about their limitations if policymakers are to make truly informed decisions.”

Co-author Dr Niall Mac Dowell, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, said: “A speedy transition to a decarbonised energy system is vital if the ambitions of the 2015 Paris Agreement are to be realised.

“However, the focus should be on maximising the rate of decarbonisation, rather than the deployment of a particular technology, or focusing exclusively on renewable power. Nuclear, sustainable bioenergy, low-carbon hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage are vital elements of a portfolio of technologies that can deliver this low carbon future in an economically viable and reliable manner.

“Finally, these system transitions must be socially viable. If a specific scenario relies on a combination of hypothetical and potentially socially challenging adaptation measures, in addition to disruptive technology breakthroughs, this begins to feel like wishful thinking.”

Real-world challenges with a rapid transition to 100% renewable power systems’ by Clara Franziska Heuberger and Niall Mac Dowell is published in Joule.

Imperial College London



16 Comments on "Running on renewables: how sure can we be about the future?"

  1. dave thompson on Fri, 16th Mar 2018 3:25 am 

    One more goofy article touting the wonder of “renewables”.

  2. Kat C on Fri, 16th Mar 2018 4:26 am 

    Decarbonization – how sure can we be about the future https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/plugged-in/landmark-100-percent-renewable-energy-study-flawed-say-21-leading-experts/

    What I am sure about is that humans are flawed and their future extremely uncertain

  3. dave thompson on Fri, 16th Mar 2018 4:32 am 

    Kat C, the flaw is in the bio-physical. We humans are just like the yeast in the wine vat aka the “The maximum power principle or Lotka’s principle has been proposed as the fourth principle of energetics in open system thermodynamics, where an example of an open system is a biological cell.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximum_power_principle

  4. Antius on Fri, 16th Mar 2018 9:38 am 

    “The proportion of UK energy supplied by renewable energies is increasing every year; in 2017 wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectricity produced as much energy as was needed to power the whole of Britain in 1958.”

    As much electricity (in raw unbuffered kWh) as the whole of Britain produced in 1958. Not energy. A very big difference.

  5. fmr-paultard on Fri, 16th Mar 2018 9:48 am 

    when i say feminized brain, i don’t disrepect women. i respect them. i want them to pick up a weapon or fly drones to kill extremists and make a living. killing is easy and we’re denying them that career path.

    i don’t disrepect kat c or alice friedman. i said she’s a supertard and my relligion is all about respeting supertards.

    i meant to say when a tard in a room with four walls being promoted and said he explored the cosmos…my god did he have brain interface to control a probe in alpha centuri? ABSOLUTELY NOT

    why is it so difficult to convince supposedly intelligent tards that he’s just a pawn for white supremacy and it does a lot of damages because it makes people like eurotard very confused.

  6. fmr-paultard on Fri, 16th Mar 2018 9:58 am 

    even a tard who obtain terminal tard degree learned to worship supertards in the form of enjoying material comfort.

    you’re saying a dictatorship with 4 year term and rule for life is better at maintaining society’s cohession. that’s where we differ!

    We know our supertards know and they will recruit the persecuted people in those dictatorships to bust them up.

  7. Kenz300 on Fri, 16th Mar 2018 12:03 pm 

    Wind and solar energy generation are safer, cleaner and CHEAPER.
    Cheaper WINS !

  8. https://www.novalauncherprimeapkfree.com on Fri, 16th Mar 2018 3:09 pm 

    My developer is trying to persuade me to move to .net from PHP.

    I have always disliked the idea because of the expenses.
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  9. Kat C on Fri, 16th Mar 2018 5:44 pm 

    Dave, yes I understand that. The thing is that as a species we are flawed in the sense that our unique abilities (intelligence, self awareness) have led us to extinction faster than the usual species. One would think that those were great traits that would lead us to a longer run, but in fact they seem to be evolutionary dead ends.

  10. Cloggie on Sat, 17th Mar 2018 1:43 pm 

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZR1MWh4-6vA
    (German documentary)

    In a couple of years my hometown will have e-buses only, built in Eindhoven (VDL). Currently they have 43 of them driving around.

    Some of the buses drive up to 380 km per day.

    There is no reason to assume that by 2030 this won’t be the new normal globally.

    Order your buses in Eindhoven now.lol

  11. MASTERMIND on Sat, 17th Mar 2018 1:45 pm 

    Clogg

    Immigration boosts a countries economy (GDP) substantially and creates jobs.
    Source: Wharton School of Business
    http://budgetmodel.wharton.upenn.edu/issues/2017/8/8/the-raise-act-effect-on-economic-growth-and-jobs

    Where’s the Immigration Crisis? U.S. Border Patrol Reports Illegal Border Crossings At Record Low
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/stuartanderson/2017/12/05/wheres-the-immigration-crisis-u-s-border-patrol-reports-illegal-border-crossings-at-record-low/#21deecfc4b73

    What Mass Immigration Wave?
    https://imgur.com/a/cgKTh

    Behold the Master Race!
    https://imgur.com/a/BN6Xq

    This is how you treat a Fascist!
    https://i.imgur.com/PVa60tN.gifv

    Richard Spencer gets blasted by AntiFa!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlUxCsQMuwY

  12. Cloggie on Sat, 17th Mar 2018 2:03 pm 

    Immigration boosts a countries economy (GDP) substantially and creates jobs.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGSAhNZnisk

  13. MASTERMIND on Sat, 17th Mar 2018 3:03 pm 

    Clogg

    Ironically that study is from the same college Trump went to…LOL

  14. MASTERMIND on Sat, 17th Mar 2018 3:05 pm 

    Clogg

    Between 2000 and 2017, the number of Border Patrol apprehensions along the Southwest border plummeted by approximately 80%, from a high of over 1.6 million in 2000 to around 300,000 in 2017.

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/stuartanderson/2017/12/05/wheres-the-immigration-crisis-u-s-border-patrol-reports-illegal-border-crossings-at-record-low/#21deecfc4b73

    illegal immigration has dropped off a cliff..no need for a wall a collapsing economy was all it took!

  15. MASTERMIND on Sat, 17th Mar 2018 3:07 pm 

    Clogg

    Since we have 325 million people. That means we are adding less than half a percent of immigrants a year….

    Scary huh? And don’t forget MS-13, they are hiding under your bed!

    https://imgur.com/a/cgKTh

  16. Antius on Sat, 17th Mar 2018 6:48 pm 

    “Clogg

    Immigration boosts a countries economy (GDP) substantially and creates jobs.
    Source: Wharton School of Business”

    Gas.

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