Are renewable energy resources large enough to replace non-renewable energy?
Book chapter, 2014
While the very large potential of renewable energy has been known to some scholars
at least since the end of the 19th century, the potential is still today commonly
underrated in public debate. To get the physical proportions right is a necessary
first step in a sensible discussion on possible and desirable development paths.
The primary purpose of this chapter is to answer the question if the resources of
renewable energy flows are large enough to completely replace fossil fuels and
nuclear energy, and to indefinitely support a world population of 9-10 billion people
at a living standard equivalent to present day industrialised societies. A second
purpose is to outline what expectations we may have on each of the different
renewable flow resources.
The potential of the conversion route via bioenergy is excluded from this discussion
but is treated more extensively in in another book in this e-book series.1 Our
scope is limited to potentials of electricity production, but since electricity is an
energy form of high quality (see Chapter 2) its use is versatile. It is not unlikely that many applications that today are powered by the chemical energy in fuels
will switch to electricity in the coming decades2. Electricity can also, at a cost,
be converted to chemical energy stored in hydrogen or even hydrocarbons (see
Chapter 12). Hence, a comparison makes sense not only to the global electricity
demand, but also to the total energy demand.