Note — Mar 24, 2019

A Future Without Fossil Fuels?

A very nearly upbeat fossil fuel piece by Bill McKibben? Yes! The various ways in which fossil fuels are being pushed aside by newly cheap renewables, with quite a few numbers and examples. Special attention to India, mini-grids, and the “end of a crushing import burden” related to oil.

[I]n 2017, for instance, sun and wind produced just 6 percent of the world’s electric supply, but they made up 45 percent of the growth in supply, and the cost of sun and wind power continues to fall by about 20 percent with each doubling of capacity. […]

India, until very recently, was expected to provide much of the growth for coal. As late as 2015, its coal use was expected to triple by 2030; the country was resisting global efforts like the Paris Accords to rein in its carbon emissions. But the price of renewable energy began to fall precipitously, and because India suffered from dire air pollution but has inexhaustible supplies of sunlight, its use of solar power started to increase dramatically. […]

No wonder that over the first nine months of 2018, India installed forty times more capacity for renewable than for coal-fired power. […]

[F]or the 80 percent of the world’s population that lives in countries that are net importers of fossil fuels, the transition to renewable energy means the end of a crushing import burden. […]

“Fossil fuels are produced by a small number of companies and countries and the benefits flow to a small number of people. With solar and wind you get a lot more local jobs, a lot more local investment. You get a whole new geopolitics.” […]

Countries in Africa and South Asia have a golden opportunity to avoid expensive fixed investments in fossil fuels and centralized grids by adopting mini-grids and decentralized solar and wind energy deployed off-grid—just as they jumped straight to mobile phones and obviated the need to lay expensive copper-wired telephone networks.