Our Energy Transition, Away From Fossil Fuels

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Originally published on Mosaic.
By Aven Satre-Meloy.

end of fossil fuels

In the 21st century, many countries are moving away from dependence on fossil fuels for their energy needs. A number of smaller countries have already reached 100% renewable energy, and many others are close to complete independence from fossil fuels. Some of the more notable achievements in our global pursuit of a future free of fossil fuels are:

  • Iceland, which is 100% free of fossil fuels, got 26% of its energy from geothermal sources in 2009.
  • At the end of June 2013, Germany’s total installed solar PV capacity was 31.19 GW, the highest in the world. Despite this solar success, however, Germany still remains dependent on some of its energy from fossil fuels.
  • China’s spending to free itself from fossil fuels and develop more renewable energy may total 1.8 trillion yuan ($323 billion) in the five years through 2015 as part of the nation’s efforts to counter climate change.
  • Nicaragua, which has set a goal to be 94% free of fossil fuels by 2017, aims to reduce its reliance on foreign oil from 70% to 6% by that time.
  • Paraguay, one of the leading countries in the world claiming independence from fossil fuels, is 100% renewable but also exported 90% of its generated electricity (54.91 TWh) in 2008.
  • By 2016, solar energy will bring electricity to 2 million Peruvians who currently do not have access to it and rely on dirty fossil fuels for cooking, lighting, and other energy needs.
  • In the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region, solar power’s energy potential far exceeds global electricity demand, yet this region still primarily remains dependent on fossil fuels.
  • In the U.S., 29 states, plus Washington, DC, and 2 territories, have a Renewable Portfolio
    Standard (RPS), meaning they will need to increase production of energy from renewable sources in the next 10-20 years in order to decrease reliance on fossil fuels.

Infographic created by Aven Satre-Meloy

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42 thoughts on “Our Energy Transition, Away From Fossil Fuels

  • China’s spending to free itself from fossil fuels ???
    They are also expanding fosil fuel useage. This is power in addition to, not replacing fossil fuels.

    I think your graphic only covers electrical energy, a lot of fuels are consumed for space water and process heat as well as transport and construction equipment. We can gradually transition much of this to electric, which is more susceptible to renewables, but it will take time.

    • China has stated that they will cap coal use starting in 2015, rolling the cap down to 2011 use levels.

      Any 2015 – 2011 power needs and expansion going forward will need to be non-fossil fuel.

      China has a very large renewable energy program underway.

      • You are both right. China is developing renewables faster than anyone because fossil fuels will not be able to meet their projected demand …unless the USA and Australia quit using coal and export it to China. Obviously China would rather not be in that position.
        Their coal plant expansion must be capped anyway because they don’t have the water resources to support that many steam plants, as Bob has pointed out before.
        It’s nice for China to make the extra political gravy by saying they are doing this to fight global warming, but that’s not the real reason.
        Wind and solar are at the economic tipping point and economics is increasingly lining up with the anti-GW effort.
        The expression “money talks, bs walks” flips is this case. More and more it will be “money talks, pro-GW non-sense gets squashed” for this specific situation. The same is happening in the USA and, as both of you already know, it will accelerate.

        • Australia already exports a lot of coal to China and would love to sell them more. US coal mines are looking for a Pacific port that will let them export to China. In both Australia and the US coal use is decreasing.

          China’s leaders have been quite vocal about the problem of climate change and their intention to be a world leader in combating it.

          • Yes, but do you think they like the strategic position of being dependent on the USA and Australia for coal? They like this even less than EU likes being dependent on Russia for NG. Clearly.
            China’s leaders are good global politicians. They frequently say one thing and do another. I’m not buying. Up until recently they’ve been saying this and then building out coal like it was going out of style. They still are. Before that they were saying AGW was our problem because we created it and they didn’t care. (They had a point, not that we had any idea until the last decade or so.) Now they can say the politically cool thing and it happens to actually line up with their real interests.
            Not that we’re any better. We’re worse. Many of our pinheaded leaders are still climate change denial.
            Thank God (literally!) the money motivation is flipping around. Read the book “Shantung Compound”. Not because it’s about a Japanese internment camp for Europeans that was in China, but because of his observations about humans under duress. 15% of us are truly altruistic even when it is to our own detriment. The rest will rationalize what is best for our own short term needs. 85% of humans are friggin Easter Islanders. Sorry, that’s a rant for me, so I’ll terminate there.
            Friggin political leaders who have the unmitigated gall to call themselves Christians, but clearly work for big oil and big money to the multiple detriment of the larger population. OK, done now… really …too much coffee.

          • I never assume that anyone will do exactly what they say. Some (a few) people aren’t truthful. Other people, sometimes conditions change and they aren’t able to do as they said, even though they had full intention of doing so at the time.

            China did not say that global warming was our problem. They were unwilling to take the blame when western countries had much higher per capita CO2 rates. And their complaint makes absolute sense.

            Will China follow through on its statements about cutting GHG emissions? I think the best predictor is past behavior.

            Years back China set a five year goal to install a certain amount of wind generation. They met that goal early. Then China set a new, more aggressive goal. And met it. And then set a higher goal.

            China has stated that their country is likely to be hurt by climate change more than most. They do, as you report, have a fresh water problem and coal mining and use are major consumers of water. China knows that it has to reduce the amount of water going to coal and free that water for agriculture and human use. That probably also plays into their decision to build no more nuclear plants inland.

            China has ramped up solar, wind and hydro. They’ve reduced their nuclear plans. They are capping coal use along with replacing inefficient coal plants with super-critical plants. They’re moving from fossil/thermal generation to renewable generation.

            Is that driven by climate change concerns or cost? Probably some of each.

            We are very lucky in that we’ve brought the cost of renewables down to the point at which we can switch from fossil fuels to renewables without causing a lot of economic hardship. In fact, we should end up with cheaper energy.

          • Another sign that China will likely install a lot of PV in the short term, is they over build their production. They don’t want to close the plants since they know they can use them later so their are using the extra in country. Also China has been paying a large cost in pollution for it’s use of dirty coal plants. It “appears” that there might be real movement to clean up that.

          • I’m very curious to see if PV passes nuclear power there like wind has.

          • Good point.

          • China announced new standards for coal plants some time ago that take effect no later than Summer 2014, are on par or better than the best of the West and will NOT grandfather ANY coal plants.

            If you can’t meet the standards, you’re closing up shop.


            They have other ambitious goals such as an additional 37 GW of new nuclear by 2017, negative growth in coal-fired capacity, and stopping construction of unapproved projects in industries that have overcapacity


          • Maybe I’m over-synical wrt China. Anyway, you win, kudos to them for whatever reason they’re doing it. I wish our leadership could figure out what they seem to know.

          • Its just that their political constraints don’t include cowtowing to the Republican party. Their constraint is their concern that if economic growth falters the people might revolt.

          • Spot on. Threat of poverty and famine trumps AGW concerns. That is what I was saying. Doesn’t matter. Renewables are now in their own best interest for beating poverty and reducing their intolerable level of pollution too.

          • What´s your source, Bob, for China? The Wikipedia page indicates that the very ambitious 80GW target for 2020 is being maintained. However, World Nuclear Report (worldnuclearreport.org, pdf at page 47) says that only four reactors have started construction since the end of the Fukushima freeze in November 2012, and two of these are demonstration models. They had 24 under construction before. China is developing its own third-generation designs competitive with the EPR and Westinghouse´s AP1000, which makes further delays and cutbacks in the nuclear programme highly likely.

          • “Still responding to the partial meltdowns last year at nuclear reactors in Fukushima, Japan, the Chinese government has lowered its target for the construction of nuclear power plants by 2015, notably by not building more nuclear reactors at inland locations.
            A white paper on energy policy released after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday said that the government planned to have 40 gigawatts of nuclear power capacity installed by 2015, and pledged strict safety standards. While the white paper and state-controlled media did not describe this as a reduction in the target, the country’s current Five-Year Plan sets a target of 50 gigawatts.”


          • So they plan to cap emissions at a rate that exceeds what any other country in the history of the world did. Doesn’t sound like leadership to me.

            Nor do I accept the greenclaims of USA, Canada or Australia, who are trying to be greener at home, but monetize their fossil fuel resources by exporting them.

          • If they follow through on their plans, their total emissions will go down. And they have the highest population of any country in the history of the world.
            Be grateful they’re acting while their per-capita emissions are still around the world average and only 1/4 that of the average American.

        • GW isn’t BS.

          • What is GW?

          • anthropogenic global warming.

          • Thanks. I stay away from those arguments and concentrate on the economic side. Guess I should pay more attention so I recognize the abbreviations.

          • correction:
            GW = Global Warming (AGW + natural GW, unless you believe only AGW applies, which may be true right now)
            AGW = Anthropogenic Global Warming
            The other side of the GW argument often says GW is only Natural GW (e.g. the Milankovich Cycles), or alternatively does not exist at all.

          • Ross,
            I agree. I didn’t mean anything else.
            The big money has been from fossil fuels and that “money talks; bs walks” has applied. What I was trying to say is that this is flipping. Renewables are becoming more and more cost effective and their market share is growing. In other words, Renewables (specifically Solar and Wind) are becoming the money AND this means that adage gets flipped to become “money talks (this time solar and wind); the bs (GW denialism) gets squashed”
            I’m sorry if I put that poorly above and hope that clarifies.

          • We still had something like $670billion of capital investment in fossil fuels last year. That dwarfs the investment in renewables. Until that ratio is reversed we are behind the eight ball.

          • Agree. Flip has begun but not there yet. Several serious efforts to foil both solar and wind have failed in the last few years. It’s getting better and there is no way to lose. Solar is growing and improving globally, the economical trends are clear. The USA can stick themselves in the eye by continuing to fight solar and wind if they want. Honey badger solar don’t care. As a USA citizen I’d prefer they don’t. Fossil fuels have already lost this game. Growth trends demonstrate this. The only question is: How much pain are we going to self-inflict before we tell the fossil fuel plutocrates to get stuffed?
            Don’t forget private investing dwarfs government investing. We don’t really need Uncle Sam to do this any more. A couple more years to completely synch it would be nice, but again, it’s global, it’s done.
            G10 agreed to cut their huge over-subsidies of fossil fuels a short while ago. It will be very interesting to see if they were lying.
            You worry too much Omega. Go watch the Honey Badger video and smile some. You’re winning.

          • Sorry, cinch not synch.

          • mds, thanks for the clarification, I agree with your post.

  • Country% above% in wiki
    Iceland% above% in wiki

  • NIce article! Do another one showing the increasing shift in policies around the globe toward renewables, include a few other countries like India, South Africa, Chile, to name a few significant ones. The amount of shift (% increase in goals) matters for the lower percentage countries. This is important because is points out a sea change in the USA’s renewable policy, purchased by the fossil fuel industry and not possible till 2016 (I think), will only be a detriment to USA industrial competitiveness in this century. It will not slow down the global deployment of renewables by much and the USA will just end up importing more wind, solar, and storage from over-seas. …in the unlikely case that we do see a policy roll-back. (Boy would that be a monument to stupid policies pushed by the too-rich-to-care …if it happened.)
    BTW How come Costa Rica is not in this article. They have a very large percentage of hydro, they already have some large wind turbines and they are building solar. Very large percentage of renewables and they export a lot of it.

  • uhh…. ELECTRICITY is not the same thing as ENERGY. E.g. Norway has a goal to produce 67 % of ENERGY from renewables in 2020 although it already produces 97 % of ELECTRICITY from renewables.

  • Too many of the statistics cited are either vague or fail to put the number in perspective of that nation’s abundance of heretofore undeveloped natural resources such as Peru,China and Paraguay. None of the “notable achievements” mention the continuing enjoyment of fossil fuels for transportation, agriculture, mining, logistics, recreation, and the construction of infrastructure and construction of the renewable energy facilities.The end of fossil fuels may not be in our lifetime.

    • Feel free to contribute.

    • I think many people will be surprised at how quickly we’ll transition from fuel to electric vehicles.

      As soon as we can purchase a 200 mile range EV for about the same price as a comparable model gasmobile it will be all over. The cost of driving per mile is so much lower for EVs people will stop buying liquid fuel cars.
      Just as a quick comparison, when solar gets to $1/watt it will be possible to buy 40+ years of “fuel” for about $3,000. Less than $7 per month for a 13,.000 mile per year driver.

      Having only a 200 mile range would make it a little less convenient for long distance driving days, but there aren’t many of those compared to our normal driving.

      We’re making progress with biofuels and for things such as agriculture and flying we will probably have petroleum options. Probably half our air travel could be moved to electrified high speed rail.

      • I have a PHEV, and PV, but rarely do I charge the car when the sun is shining. Its going to take a lot of will to make this transition happen fast enough. Just waiting for barriers to fall is not enough.

      • China’s build-out of hi-speed rail is having a big impact after only 5 yrs. It’s displaced airplane trips of less than 300 miles almost entirely and a significant # of flights of 300-500 miles.
        And the trains are running almost at full capacity all the time.

        Despite the huge debt racked up to build the 6000 mile network, the gov’t plans to invest $100 billion/yr in the rail system.


    • One area of transportation where electricity is (or can be) used is railroads. Many western European railroad systems are almost entirely powered by electricity. The New England Corridor of AMTRAK in USA is electrically powered (and also from Philadelphia to Harrisburg. The Pennsylvania Railroad wanted to electrify that all the way to Chicago, but the depression of 1929 put a stop to that. Railroads could handle more traffic than they do in the US if the congress would cough up some of the capital needed for that. And even diesel powered railroad trains are more efficient than diesel powered trucks and busses on highways.

      • The Trans-Siberian Railway runs almost twice the distance from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It’s all electric. And was converted from fossil fuels to electric.

        We could avoid pumping a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere by wiring our trains and moving most of our freight to rail. Just use trucks for “the last mile”. And if we do it right they could run on electricity as well.

  • 62% DPR Korea? Is this accurate?

  • The post is rose-tinted. Germany still gets the majority of its energy, and even its electricity, from fossil fuels. Its 2050 target is 60% renewable energy. That´s too low and will probably be raised – after another huge political strugple. Paraguay is >100% renewable – thanks to the single huge Itaipu dam on the Parana, built in the 1970s (not recently) by the Brazilian military dictatorship. Paraguay may never need the 7GW that represents its half of the capacity, most of which is exported to Brazil. India still plans to build gigawatts more coal power stations, even though its coal industry is in deep crisis and can´t raise output. Japan has relaunched its solar PV programme in a big way – but only in response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

    Yes, things are getting better for renewable energy, and quite fast. But you do have to bear in mind two things. One, the progress is the result of tremendous efforts by millions of people round the globe, from Chinese environmental activists and panel manufacturers to American scientists and German policymakers and installers. Two, climate disruption is also speeding up. The North Pole has been a shallow lake this summer. It´s a race for survival against the clock, and we have to keep running through the pain barrier.

    • Good points, but this post also points out 100% renewable is possible, is being done in some places, and is in the work for others. This is important to note if that is what you are asking the world to do. The nay-sayers would have you believe it is not possible and not economic. It turns out that will not be the case. This is more proof. Here is maybe a better example:


  • And the US lags waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay behind!

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