The majority of systems for renewable energy generation is made of non-renewable materials

Global energy model solely reliant on renewables realistically simulated

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

An electricity grid system 100 per cent based on renewable energy production that works in all regions of the world has been successfully simulated using a complex computer model.

Created by a team at the Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland, it demonstrates how an electricity system that fulfils the targets set by the Paris Agreement by using only renewable energy sources could work.

The Paris Agreement, which aims for a carbon-neutral world by 2050-2100 to limit global warming, came into effect on 4 November, although there are concerns that the pledge to limit temperature rises to 2°C above pre-industrial levels could be broken as early as 2030. 

The global ‘Internet of Energy Model’ visualises a 100 percent renewable energy system for the electricity sector for 2030. It can do this for the entire world which, in the model, has been structured into 145 regions, which are all visualised, and aggregated to nine major world regions.

“With the simulation, anyone can explore what a renewable electricity system would look like. This is the first time scientists have been able to do this on a global scale.” says Christian Breyer, LUT solar economy professor and a leading scientist behind the model.

The model is designed to find the most economical solution for a renewable electricity system and shows how the supply of electricity can be organised to cover demand for all hours of the year.

This means that best mix of renewable energy generation, storage and transmission components can be found to cover the electricity demand, leading to total electricity cost roughly between 55 and 70 euros per megawatt-hour for all nine major regions in the world.

But the story does not end here. The researchers have ambitious goals to develop the model further. Future upgrades will go from looking only at the electricity sector to showing the full energy sector, including heat and mobility sectors.

The model will also describe how to make the transition from the current energy system to a fully sustainable one.

According to the researchers the model debunks myths about what renewables can and cannot achieve. One of the myths is that a fully renewable energy system cannot possibly run stable for all hours of the year, due to the intermittent character of solar and wind energy.

Another myth is the idea that without large baseload generation capacities, such as coal or nuclear plants, an electricity system cannot work. According to the researchers, both of these are incorrect and the facts can be checked from the model.

“My hope is that we can finally stop debating about these myths. The visualisation shows exactly how a fully renewable electricity system operates. So let’s just build it,” said Professor Pasi Vainikka, who noted that anyone can download the detailed data pack.

“We want the model to give every citizen the chance to familiarise themselves with a renewable energy system. Increased knowledge usually lowers the resistance towards new developments.”

“Every country in the world has to find pathways to achieve the Paris agreement targets and to avoid stranded assets. This model can provide the help for policy-makers, industrial decision-makers and societal stakeholders to do that,” said Professor Christian Breyer, who also worked on the project.

A team at Stanford University recently conducted a similar study assessing the viability of an energy grid powered solely by renewables. 

Differing from the Finnish study, the Stanford research assessed the possibility of such a system country by country, rather than on a global, basis.

It looked at 139 countries and found that all of them could create a viable system entirely based on renewables with the exceptions of Gibraltar and Singapore, presumably due to their small land masses.

For the UK projection specifically, large solar farms coupled with onshore and offshore wind would provide the bulk of the UK’s energy needs.

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