The clean energy transition could save trillions, say Oxford researchers

Investors are increasingly supporting renewable energy projects despite new Prime Minister Liz Truss pledging to restrict support for clean energy technologies and focus on fracking oil and gas drilling.

Switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy is "possible and profitable", and could save the world as much as $12tn (£10.2tn) by 2050 compared to continuing the current levels of fossil fuel use, according to a study by Oxford University. 

In the paper, the research team denied the idea that a green transition would be extremely costly as "just wrong", and described a scenario in which rapidly transitioning to clean energy results in lower energy system costs than a fossil fuel system, while providing 55 per cent more energy to the global economy, and expanding energy access to more people around the world.  

The study’s ‘Fast Transition’ scenario could be achieved by ramping up solar, wind, batteries, electric vehicles, and clean fuels such as green hydrogen, the scientists said.  

"Past models, predicting high costs for transitioning to zero-carbon energy, have deterred companies from investing, and made governments nervous about setting policies that will accelerate the energy transition and cut reliance on fossil fuels," said Dr Rupert Way, the study's author. 

"But clean energy costs have fallen sharply over the last decade, much faster than those models expected. Accelerating the transition to renewable energy is now the best bet not just for the planet, but for energy costs too." 

The study's publication follows the announcement of Prime Minister Liz Truss' plan to address the surge in energy costs. Rather than betting on renewables, the new PM has taken steps to foster an increase in new North Sea exploration and drilling for fossil fuels, despite the obvious climate issues and repercussions for the UK’s net-zero targets. 

As expected, Truss also ended England’s ban on fracking – the process of extracting shale gas by fracturing rocks with high-pressure water – and pledged to restrict development in renewables. 

Despite this policy shift, new findings from Thrive Renewables and Triodos Bank UK have revealed that the wide majority of UK investors are in support of renewable energy, and are increasing the amount they have invested in solar and wind power. 

The survey showed that 7 in 10 investors think the UK should increase investment in renewable energy. Specifically, 65 per cent of retail investors support more solar energy projects in the UK, and 62 per cent support more onshore wind projects. Prompted by this desire for positive change in the energy sector, nearly six in 10 investors have recently, or plan to, increase their investments in renewables, according to the poll. 

"There is a pervasive misconception that switching to clean, green energy will be painful, costly and mean sacrifices for us all – but that’s just wrong," said Professor Doyne Farmer, who leads the team that conducted the Oxford study. 

"Renewable costs have been trending down for decades. They are already cheaper than fossil fuels in many situations and, our research shows, they will become cheaper than fossil fuels across almost all applications in the years to come. And, if we accelerate the transition, they will become cheaper faster. Completely replacing fossil fuels with clean energy by 2050 will save us trillions." 

The study showed the costs for key storage technologies, such as batteries and hydrogen electrolysis, are also likely to fall dramatically. Meanwhile, the costs of nuclear have consistently increased over the last five decades, making it highly unlikely to be cost-competitive with plunging renewable and storage costs. 

According to the survey by Thrive Renewables, the support for investing in renewable energy is not only prevalent among investors but shared by the UK population as a whole, with two-thirds (66 per cent) wanting investment in renewables to increase. This data is supported by a different survey commissioned by RenewableUK.  

“In the midst of climate breakdown and an energy crisis, it has never been more important for the UK to invest in the renewable electricity generation needed to transition away from fossil fuels and deliver on this country’s net-zero carbon goals," said Matthew Clayton, managing director of Thrive Renewables. 

Last week, a report by Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) concluded that meeting the government’s four-fold increase target for offshore renewable energy by 2030 could be “potentially achievable” if the rate of wind turbine installation is doubled or tripled. Currently, as many as 46 per cent (almost 19.5GW) of potential capacity additions before 2030 are only at a concept stage, according to OEUK.

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