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A global transition to renewables could save trillions says study

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A new study from the Oxford Martin School has shown that a near-complete transition to renewables and other clean energy solutions by 2050 could save the world at least $12 trillion (over £10 trillion), when compared to current levels of fossil fuel use.

While switching to renewables provides a clear way to reduce the effects of climate change, some have labelled the move as too expensive, expressing concerns about potentially damaging the economy and in this way providing a barrier to implementation. The new study not only shows this as incorrect, but also that huge savings would be made by utilising clean energy systems such as wind turbines, solar panels and/or storage solutions, and how such a move would enable greater energy access to more people. It also points out these savings do not take into account the costs we would face to try and address the ever-increasing damage caused by climate change.

The current energy crisis, record temperatures and resulting problems such as droughts have further highlighted the urgent need for increased energy security and a decrease in our reliance on fossil fuels, with the majority of voters in the UK (see here) expressing their desire to see an increase in Government support for renewables and a rapid acceleration in its deployment. The new study would seem to confirm this as the ‘best’ response, to help both the planet and our economy.

The study’s lead author, Dr Rupert Way, 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 green transition and cut reliance on fossil fuels. But past models have overestimated key green technology costs again and again, leaving modellers to play catch up as real world costs plunged over the last decade.

“Only a few years ago, net zero by 2050 was believed to be so expensive that it was barely considered credible, yet now even the most pessimistic models concede that it’s entirely within reach. Our research goes further and shows that scaling up key green technologies is likely to drive their costs down so far that overall they generate net cost savings, and the faster we go, the more we will save. Accelerating the transition to renewable energy is now the best bet not just for the planet, but for energy costs too.”

Researchers on the project reportedly analysed thousands of previous energy transition cost scenarios, a number of which pointed to financial problems, and found that all of the models overestimated the future costs of renewables, some by a large margin. Using current technology costs and data from the last forty years the Oxford team were able to confidently predict future decreases in the costs of renewables and therefore the savings we would see via a full transition.

The intermittent nature of key renewable energy sources such as wind and solar were also addressed in the study, with the researchers predicting a rapid decrease in the cost and therefore viability of energy storage solutions such as batteries and hydrogen. It also pointed out that the costs associated with nuclear power, a key part of the UK government’s energy security strategy, have consistently increased over the last 50 years, making it “highly unlikely to be cost competitive with plunging renewable and storage costs”.

The full study is available to view here.

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