Could the World Run on Solar and Wind Power?

Article written: 25 Aug , 2010
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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Today, the total oil and natural gas production provides about 60 percent of global energy consumption. This percentage is expected to peak about 10 to 30 years from now, and then be followed by a rapid decline, due to declining oil reserves and, hopefully, sources of renewable energy that technologies that will become more economically viable. But will there be the technology breakthroughs needed to make clean and exhaustible energy cost effective?

Nobel prize winner Walter Kohn, Ph.D., from the University of California Santa Barbara said that the continuous research and development of alternate energy could soon lead to a new era in human history in which two renewable sources — solar and wind — will become Earth’s dominant contributor of energy.

“These trends have created two unprecedented global challenges”, Kohn said, speaking at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting. “One is the threatened global shortage of acceptable energy. The other is the unacceptable, imminent danger of global warming and its consequences.”

The nations of the world need a concerted commitment to a changeover from the current era, dominated by oil plus natural gas, to a future era dominated by solar, wind, and alternative energy sources, Kohn said, and he sees that beginning to happen.

The global photovoltaic energy production increased by a factor of about 90 and wind energy by a factor of about 10 over the last decade. Kohn expects vigorous growth of these two energies to continue during the next decade and beyond, thereby leading to a new era, what he calls the SOL/WIND era, in human history, in which solar and wind energy have become the earth’s dominant alternative energies.

Kohn noted that this challenge require a variety of responses. “The most obvious is continuing scientific and technical progress providing abundant and affordable alternative energies, safe, clean and carbon-free,” he said.

One of the biggest challenges might be leveling off global population, as well as energy consumption levels.

Source: American Chemical Society

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18 Responses

  1. Cosmic Super Ape says

    One thing we could do to help is stop lighting up the night sky with light pollution! That will help! Hopefully as cheap energy becomes less abundant people will be more congnizant of wasted energy and use their outdoor lighting more responsibly.

  2. cubby2zeta says

    “One of the biggest challenges might be leveling off global population, as well as energy consumption levels.”

    Yeah, lets have a death lottery, or force a 1 child rule on the world, works out well for Chinese females…

    If people don’t accept our advice lets make them do it…ain’t it fun being on the left.

  3. Emilio says

    You need to examine where your thinking is coming from. In the old world, each tribe needed man power to fight and concur. Population was the key. So the religions of the time reflect this. Female became reproductive machine. Man ruled. Rape was acceptable. Still is. What does left or right have to do with this? Are you confused?

  4. Torbjorn Larsson OM says

    I’ll have only nitpicks today:

    This percentage is expected to peak about 10 to 30 years from now, and then be followed by a rapid decline,

    “Peak oil” is all the rage because it tells many what they believe anyway, but AFAIU the data of the tail rejects it as it is 20 % or more off from actual data.

    And that is on oil fields, which is after all what the theory was developed for. AFAIU market theories, which is what should concern us, predicts a rather flat plateau for a couple of decades as happens for most resources.

    a variety of responses. “The most obvious is continuing scientific and technical progress providing abundant and affordable alternative energies,

    The most effective strategy has been found time and again be energy savings. That goes back to cost efficiency, the very appropriate question the article started with.

  5. Torbjorn Larsson OM says

    @ CSA:

    Hopefully as cheap energy becomes less abundant people will be more congnizant of wasted energy and use their outdoor lighting more responsibly.

    One would think so, but one would be wrong. I read recently [in the local papers IIRC; feel free to google] that studies say the new LED energy saving lights increases energy requirements because there is a large unsatisfied need for more lighting. One putative cause is thought to be increased life length, with concomitant poor eye sight.

    Apparently LED flexibility and cheap cabling drives up consumption drastically as long as there is a need.

    force a 1 child rule on the world,

    Apparently you haven’t heard of sex!? Each couple need >= 2 children to make even.

    The world average is < 3 children/woman and decreasing. Not far to go!

  6. Astrofiend says

    Ultimately, solar and wind will drive the world. If fusion could ever be made to work, then perhaps it will get a look in, though I suspect that it is at least 50 years off if it is even viable at all. This era will be looked back upon as somewhat quaint – “People used to pump that black gunk out of the ground and then BURN it for energy?!’…

    It will seem as ridiculous and backward as the Amish.

  7. Lawrence B. Crowell says

    The real question with renewable energy is whether we could run the sort of economy we have. Our economy is a hypercommericialized consumer based system that grows and makes profits by extracting more energy and materials, processing them and ultimately tossing them out as entropy or garbage. Clearly a renewable energy, as well as a renewable material, technology base will imply a very different sort of economic system.

    That is the thing many people will ardently fight. Ever since Friedmann and Reagan this sort of economic system has become a type of religion.

    LC

  8. Wtoon says

    The world could run on SOL/WIND power after WWIII. After the war fission enregy would be prohibited and fission fuel would be depleted.

  9. Wtoon says

    The world could run on SOL/WIND power after WWIII. After the war fission enregy would be prohibited and fossil fuel would be depleted.

  10. Wtoon says

    If we don’t want to wait until after WWIII we can now start Space-Based Solar Power project.

  11. Duncan Ivry says

    The article, Walter Kohn and the previous commenters are missing one challenge: efficient storage of massive amounts of energy. We are far from a solution, but it’s a necessary precondition for the area of alternative energies. In the European Union, where I live, we have a lot of highly populated and highly industrialized areas without much sunshine and without the wind blowing steadily.

  12. Wtoon says

    We are here on Earth until at this stage by the process of evolution. Let us use energy most efficient and evole into as much as possible any renewable energy.

  13. Olaf says

    Energy savings only delays the problem, including the more efficiency use.
    Solar panels are only a temporal solution.

  14. Wtoon says

    Solar panels are being more and more manufactured and already deployed at many solar power plants.

  15. Roen says

    I had noticed a number of problems with some comments made, but the one I choose to mention and pick at is that made by Lawrence B, sorry friend ;). Global pollution and climate change is here *because* of the economic systems we have in place. We knew about this and still valued money over the home we share with many other living creatures. Nothing will change until our lust of money changes. You may already believe this, Lawrence, but I had to say it.

  16. Roen says

    Just to expand a bit on my previous comment:
    I agree that the economic situation must change. But, as stated above, our attitude has to change first. As long as the few have a choke-hold on the many we will constantly hear terms like, sustainable growth and disposable income. 90% of the wealth of this planet is in the hands of a few corporates. All the money *WE* spent on the cars we bought, the maintenance, the gas, the toasters, jam, milk, clothes, hermetically sealed packages, plastic lunch bags, yogurt, and midget wrestling *will never be seen again* by us. The money I spent simply to survive helped pay for a number of gold toilets in private jets. This upsets me, as I’m sure it upsets most of you. At least I really hope it does, otherwise there really is no more hope for our world.

  17. neoguru says

    A solar and wind economy sidesteps the basic question of fuel. My vote goes for controlled nuclear fusion and the electrolysis of water for a hydrogen based economy.

  18. Paul Eaton-Jones says

    Wind power is probably the most over-hyped energy source since … well, ever. Ugly and inefficient. Even here in Britain where it’s exceedingly windy we would have to ‘plant’ around 1.5 million big turbines to provide less than ten percent of the country’s energy needs. Totally impractical and totally preposterous. Added to which the wind doesn’t blow all the year round even in Winter. For countries with coastlines wave-powered turbines are the only answer. The sea moves all the time and estuaries have two tides a day [four if you live in Southampton]. At current development levels this added to solar and you may just provide 50%. We still need nuclear. But wind power should bve strangled at birth. But of course the eco-fascists want to be in harmony with nature, maaaan. Strangle them too.

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