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Fossil Fuels: The End Is In Sight

Previous attempts to desperately cling to fossil fuels have covered everything from questioning the costs of clean energy to the full-blown collapse of renewable nations should there be a cloudy or still day, but now that we’re in the early days of a renewable revolution, both old myths and current efforts to keep the fossil fuel industry alive are nothing but fuelling its own demise. 

Fossil fuel obsolescence is inevitable for three reasons; the unstable fossil fuel market running against the ever cheapening renewable market and rapidly growing low-carbon sector, the scientific leaps in renewable technologies, and the growing collective environmental awareness around the world being implemented into legislation.

Technological advancement 

Granted when renewable technologies were first made costs were high and yields were poor, but we’ve come a long way since then. Over time yields of solar panels have been greatly enhanced while using fewer materials, along with increased storage capacity and prolonged battery life across multiple renewable platforms.

Flickr | Activ SolarElon Musk’s latest innovations are the prime example of this with Tesla Powerwall and Powerpack batteries, having a per-unit capacity of 13.5kWh and 210kWh respectively, and high-yield solar panel roof tiles that cost less than a traditional roof installation when considering the money saved from future utility bills.

As for the myth that renewables lack the capacity to meet energy demands and are not able to supply round-the-clock energy, intelligent system integration would see all of the most effective renewable strategies simultaneously implemented to best benefit a region/country; effectively making the national grid a constant virtual power plant. A new simulation from the Neo-Carbon energy Project at Lappeenranta University of Technology shows what a 100% renewable future would look like in 2030, demonstrating the capacity, distribution and affordability of a renewably powered world.  

Environmental Awareness

These technological advancements, coupled with a heightened global awareness of sustainability and rapid fallings in costs, led to the instalment of half a million solar panels every day throughout 2015, meaning that renewable generating capacity surpassed coal power worldwide that year. And again, more recently over a 6 month period in 2016, UK solar panels alone generated 7000 gigawatt hours (GWh), 10% more than what coal produced over the same period. Germany already gets a quarter of its energy from renewable sources and is in the midst of installing their second renewable infrastructure, aiming to be 80% renewable by 2050.

Flickr | Sam BeebeThe renewable milestones reached in the UK and Germany are by no means the only improvements, there are several instances worldwide of renewable climate action outcompeting fossil fuels including Costa Rica running solely on renewables for a collective 150 days this year; Ta’u Island becoming a 100% renewable country in November; renewables accounting for 42% of mainland Spain’s energy in 2013, most of which generated by wind; and the International Energy Agency deeming any country can cost-effectively reach a high level of renewable integration.

The necessity for climate action has brought a sense of urgency to those most vulnerable, aware and compassionate. Social action is also pressuring the fossil fuel industry as more people have started boycotting companies that are unsustainable. But economic incentives for sustainability are also driving huge expansion in the sector, further displacing the market for fossil fuels.  

Financial and legal landscape

This is especially relevant now that fossil fuel acquisition is rapidly becoming financially nonviable, and in comparison to renewables which will only continue to get cheaper and better functioning, makes them the logical option.

Flickr | Land Rover Our PlanetLarge-scale investments in China as they try to shift from coal-fire power saw solar energy selling for half the price of coal earlier in the year, and the growth of the low-carbon sector worldwide through job creation and global investment is quickly putting the last nail in the fossil fuel coffin.

2015 saw global investment in renewable power at US$265.8billion, while new coal and gas endeavours received around US$130billion. Renewable energy is also far cheaper for the consumer too, for instance a newly announced Danish windfarm set to sell power for €49.50 per MWh, the cheapest on record.

New agreements and legal commitments, including the Paris Agreement and the Climate Vulnerable Forum Vision which has 47 countries already agreed to go 100% renewable, will also make it very difficult to backpedal. Many developing countries and island nations are also thought to skip the fossil fuel stage completely.

Solutions to keep it in the ground

Flickr | Robert AshworthDespite the progress made there are still those who want to see fossil fuels bounce back meaning that in conjunction to growth, investment and advocating clean-energy future, fossil fuels must be kept in the ground.

This could be achieved through the introduction of a Carbon tax and more stringent energy legislations to make fossil fuel acquisition both financially nonviable and legally impossible.

Penalising high-carbon investments and cutting harmful subsidies for fossil fuels, and giving subsidies and incentives to countries that install renewable infrastructures could also be a feasible strategy; and perhaps even trade sanctions for those who have the capability to but fail to meet targets.

But even if none of these were implemented the end of fossil fuels is closer now than ever before.

By Thomas Phillips - Online Journalism Intern

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