A recently-released report says that a successful clean energy transition could generate 65 million new jobs worldwide and result in $26 trillion in financial benefits by 2030.
The New Climate Economy study also contains proposals for expanding solar and wind energy, increasing the use of electric vehicles and cutting back on coal generation.
According to NCE, $2.8 trillion alone could be saved by discontinuing subsidies for fossil fuels and introducing carbon taxes.
The report argues this is feasible, since renewable energy projects capable of generating the equivalent of 1,500 coal-fired power plants are either under construction or being planned.
Additionally, battery storage costs are dropping so rapidly that renewables would be able to offer a reliable alternative to coal and gas-powered plants.
Fossil fuels account for 65 percent of global electricity generation. Although renewables have seen substantial growth over recent years, they only make up 24 percent of the overall total.
However, there are two major opportunities to reverse those numbers: Firstly, in the developing world, infrastructure to power economic growth is severely lacking. Secondly, countries in the developed world are facing a situation in which much of their infrastructure is reaching the end of its lifespan.
Taken together, this means that somewhere in the region of $90 trillion needs to be spent on infrastructure by 2030, giving policymakers an excellent opportunity to determine how our future energy generation systems will operate for many years to come.
The NCE report advocates focusing on sustainable cities and better food/land use as well as renewable energy.
“This approach can deliver growth that is strong, sustainable, balanced, and inclusive,” the report’s authors said. “It is driven by the interaction between rapid technological innovation, sustainable infrastructure investment, and increased resource productivity.”
A balanced transition?
One of the most common arguments against such an ambitious clean energy transition is the impact it would have on the millions of jobs that currently rely on fossil fuels.
The NCE report contends that this concern will prove to be unfounded, because millions of new jobs will be created in the renewable energy and infrastructure sectors.
The additional resources will also allow for programs to support workers in the fossil fuel sector. For example, NCE mentions an initiative that would allow between 4 and 6 million coal miners in China, which currently uses vast quantities of fossil fuels to keep up with its expanding energy needs, to take early retirement.
Another boost to the job market would come from more compact cities. Workers would spend less time commuting to their jobs, and lower levels of pollution would reduce health problems, claims the report, which also notes that up to 700,000 premature deaths could be avoided by 2030 through a reduction in air pollution.
Other studies back the NCE’s findings on job creation. Research published in May revealed that more than 500,000 clean energy jobs were created globally last year, bringing the total number of workers employed in the sector to more than 10 million for the first time.
“The data also underscores an increasingly regionalized picture, highlighting that in countries where attractive policies exist, the economic, social and environmental benefits of renewable energy are most evident,” said Adnan Amin, director general of the International Renewable Energy Agency. “Fundamentally, this data supports our analysis that decarbonization of the global energy system can grow the global economy and create up to 28 million jobs in the sector by 2050.”
Decarbonizing residential and transportation energy systems
Achieving the goals set out by the NCE study will require significantly reducing the carbon produced by energy generation for the residential and transportation sectors.
A joint report prepared by Ovo Energy and Imperial College London, published the same week as the NCE study, examines the costs of doing so, with the United Kingdom used as an example.
The most demanding scenario examined by the study, which would involve having 21 million homes powered by electricity and 25 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030, would cut decarbonization costs by around $8.8 billion per year.
According to the study, savings would primarily result from the reduced requirements for network investment and the use of cheaper energy sources like solar and wind power.
In practical terms, the report proposed expanding the use of electric vehicle chargers and flexible energy storage systems located in the home.
Additionally, it suggested introducing technology to shift energy use from peak times to take advantage of energy surpluses generated by solar or wind power at different times of the day.
Jordan Smith is a freelance journalist and translator covering issues related to energy, the environment, and politics. His work has appeared on the independent news site Opposing Views, and at the Canadian Labour Institute.