Study: Using green electricity to combat climate change

Around 80 percent of total energy consumption for industry, transport and building heating is covered by direct combustion of fossil energy, with electricity accounting for 20 percent. But »with consistent climate policies,« green power could account for three-quarters of energy use in the long term. »In combination with a comprehensive CO2 price, this could push greenhouse gas emissions down to the point where the Paris climate targets would be met,« according to a study published by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).
»For a long time, fossil fuels were cheap and easily accessible, while electricity was the more precious and expensive energy source. However, renewable energy, especially photovoltaics, has since become cheaper at a breathtaking pace,« says study author Gunnar Luderer. This is a pace that »most computer simulations have underestimated so far.«
In the last ten years, he says, prices for solar power have fallen by 85 percent, »and further declines in costs can be expected in the future.« This development has the potential to fundamentally revolutionize energy systems: »Our computer simulations show that electricity, combined with global carbon pricing, can become the cheapest form of energy by 2050, meeting up to three-quarters of all demand in the long term.«
The cost per kilowatt-hour of solar or wind power is steadily declining, while battery technology is improving at a rapid pace. »You can electrify more end uses than you think, and actually reduce energy consumption in those cases compared to today,« said study co-author Silvia Madeddu. By 2050, more than half of the industry's total energy needs could be met with electricity, she adds.
Bottlenecks to electrification and thus decarbonization are long-haul air travel, shipping and basic chemicals, where fossil fuels are used as raw materials in the production of chemicals. But here, too, renewable solutions are conceivable, such as green hydrogen-based fuels (e-fuels) for aviation. In contrast, technologies to extract carbon from the atmosphere »have not so far proved suitable for mass production.«
The research, »Accelerated electrification based on cheap renewables facilitates reaching Paris Climate targets,« was published in Nature Energy (DOI: 10.1038/s41560-021-00937-z).

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