Fossil fuel phase-out
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Fossil fuel phase-out is the gradual reduction of the use of fossil fuels to zero. It is part of the ongoing renewable energy transition. Current efforts in fossil fuel phase-out involve replacing fossil fuels with sustainable energy sources in sectors such as transport, and heating. Alternatives to fossil fuels include electrification, hydrogen and aviation biofuel.
Although crude oil and natural gas are also being phased out in chemical processes (i.e. production of new building blocks for plastics, ...) as the circular economy and biobased economy (i.e. bioplastics, ...) is being developed to reduce plastic pollution, this is not considered part of fossil fuel phase out as in these cases the oil and gas is not being used as fuel.
Types of fossil fuels
Coal use peaked in 2013 but to meet the Paris Agreement target of keeping global warming to well below 2 °C (3.6 °F) coal use needs to halve from 2020 to 2030. However as of 2017[update], coal supplied over a quarter of the world's primary energy and about 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. Phasing out coal has short-term health and environmental benefits which exceed the costs, and without it the 2 °C target in the Paris Agreement cannot be met; but some countries still favor coal, and there is much disagreement about how quickly it should be phased out.
As of 2018[update], 30 countries and many sub-national governments and businesses had become members of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, each making a declaration to advance the transition away from unabated coal power generation. As of 2019[update], however, the countries which use the most coal have not joined, and some countries continue to build and finance new coal-fired power stations. A just transition from coal is supported by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
In 2020, although China built some plants, globally more coal power was retired than built: the UN Secretary General has said that OECD countries should stop generating electricity from coal by 2030 and the rest of the world by 2040.
Crude oil is refined into fuel oil, diesel and gasoline. The refined products are primarily for transportation by conventional cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships. Popular alternatives are human-powered transport, public transport, electric vehicles, and biofuels.
Natural gas is widely used to generate electricity and has an emission intensity of about 500g/kWh. Heating is also a major source of carbon dioxide emissions. Leaks are also a large source of atmospheric methane.
In some countries natural gas is being used as a temporary "bridge fuel" to replace coal, in turn to be replaced by renewable sources or a hydrogen economy. However this "bridge fuel" may significantly extend the use of fossil fuel or strand assets, such as gas-fired power plants built in the 2020s, as the average plant life is 35 years. Although natural gas assets are likely to be stranded later than oil and coal assets, perhaps not until 2050, some investors are concerned by reputational risk.
Natural gas phase-out is progressing in some regions, for example with increasing use of hydrogen by the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas (ENTSOG) and changes to building regulations to reduce the use of gas heating.
The reasons for phasing out fossil fuels are to:
- reduce deaths and illness caused by air pollution
- limit climate change
- reduce energy subsidies
Most of the millions of premature deaths from air pollution are due to fossil fuels. Pollution may be indoors e.g. from heating and cooking, or outdoors from vehicle exhaust. One estimate is that the proportion is 65% and the number 3.5 million each year. According to Professor Sir Andy Haines at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine the health benefits of phasing out fossil fuels measured in money (estimated by economists using the value of life for each country) are substantially more than the cost of achieving the 2 degree C goal of the Paris Agreement.
Climate change mitigation
Fossil-fuel phase-out is the largest part of limiting global warming as they account for over 70% of greenhouse gas emissions, but as of 2020[update] needs to move 4 times faster to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
The renewable energy transition can create jobs through the construction of new power plants and the manufacturing of the equipment that they need, as was seen in the case of Germany and the wind power industry.
This can also be seen in the case of France and the nuclear power industry. France receives about 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy and hundreds of jobs have been created for developing nuclear technology, construction workers, engineers, and radiation protection specialists.
Phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies
Energy subsidy in 2019 for fossil fuel consumption totalled USD 320 billion spread over many countries. According to the International Monetary Fund: "The absence of public support for subsidy reform is in part due to a lack of confidence in the ability of governments to shift the resulting budgetary savings to programs that would compensate the poor and middle class for the higher energy prices they face."
Rice University Center for Energy Studies academics Krane, Matar and Monaldi suggest the following steps for countries:
1. Countries should commit to a specific time frame for a full phaseout of implicit and explicit fossil fuel subsidies.
2. Clarify the language on subsidy reform to remove ambiguous terminology.
3. Seek formal legislation in affected countries that codifies reform pathways and reduces opportunities for backsliding.
4. Publish transparent formulas for market-linked pricing, and adhere to a regular schedule for price adjustments.
5. Phase-in full reforms in a sequence of gradual steps. Increasing prices gradually but on a defined schedule signals intent to consumers while allowing time to invest in energy efficiency to partially offset the increases.
6. Aspire to account for externalities over time by imposing a fee or tax on fossil energy products and services, and eliminating preferences for fossil fuels that remain embedded in the tax code.
7. Use direct cash transfers to maintain benefits for poor segments of society rather than preserving subsidized prices for vulnerable socioeconomic groups.
8. Launch a comprehensive public communications campaign.
9. Any remaining fossil fuel subsidies should be clearly budgeted at full international prices and paid for by the national treasury.
10. Document price and emissions changes with reporting requirements.
Studies about fossil fuel phase-out
In 2015, Greenpeace and Climate Action Network Europe released a report highlighting the need for an active phase-out of coal-fired generation across Europe. Their analysis derived from a database of 280 coal plants and included emissions data from official EU registries.
A 2016 report by Oil Change International, concludes that the carbon emissions embedded in the coal, oil, and gas in currently working mines and fields, assuming that these run to the end of their working lifetimes, will take the world to just beyond the 2 °C limit contained in the 2015 Paris Agreement and even further from the 1.5 °C goal. The report observes that "one of the most powerful climate policy levers is also the simplest: stop digging for more fossil fuels".:5
In 2016, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and 11 other NGOs released a report on the impact of building new coal-fired power plants in countries where a significant proportion of the population lacks access to electricity. The report concludes that, on the whole, building coal-fired power plants does little to help the poor and may make them poorer. Moreover, wind and solar generation are beginning to challenge coal on cost.
A 2018 study in Nature Energy, suggests that 10 countries in Europe could completely phase out coal-fired electricity generation with their current infrastructure, whilst the United States and Russia could phase out at least 30%.
The GeGaLo index of geopolitical gains and losses assesses how the geopolitical position of 156 countries may change if the world fully transitions to renewable energy resources. Former fossil fuel exporters are expected to lose power, while the positions of former fossil fuel importers and countries rich in renewable energy resources is expected to strengthen.
Challenges of fossil fuel phase-out
The phase-out of fossil fuels involves many challenges, and one of them is the reliance that currently the world has on them. In 2014, fossil fuels provided 81.1% of the primary energy consumption of the world, with approximately 465 exajoules (11,109 megatonnes of oil equivalent). This number is composed by 179 EJ (4,287 Mtoe) of oil consumption; 164 EJ (3,918 Mtoe) of coal consumption, and 122 EJ (2,904 Mtoe) of natural gas consumption.
Fossil fuel phase-out may lead to an increment in electricity prices, because of the new investments needed to replace their share in the electricity mix with alternative energy sources.
Another impact of a phase-out of fossil fuels is in the employment. In the case of employments in the fossil fuel industry, a phase-out is logically undesired, therefore, people in the industry will usually oppose any measures that put their industries under scrutiny. Endre Tvinnereim and Elisabeth Ivarsflaten studied the relationship between employment in the fossil fuel industry with the support to climate change policies. They proposed that one opportunity for displaced drilling employments in the fossil fuel industry could be in the geothermal energy industry. This was suggested as a result of their conclusion: people and companies in the fossil fuel industry will likely oppose measures that endanger their employments, unless they have other stronger alternatives. This can be extrapolated to political interests, that can push against the phase-out of fossil fuels initiative. One example is how the vote of United States Congress members is related to the preeminence of fossil fuel industries in their respective states.
Major initiatives and legislation to phase out fossil fuels
China has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2060, which would need a just transition for over 3 million workers in the coal-mining and power industry. It is not yet clear whether China aims to phase-out all fossil fuel use by that date or whether a small proportion will still be in use with the carbon captured and stored.
At the end of 2019, the European Union launched its European Green Deal. It included:
- a revision of the Energy Taxation Directive which is looking closely at fossil fuel subsidies and tax exemptions (aviation, shipping)
- a circular economy action plan,
- a review and possible revision (where needed) of the all relevant climate-related policy instruments, including the Emissions Trading System
- a sustainable and smart mobility strategy
- potential carbon tariffs for countries that don't curtail their greenhouse gas pollution at the same rate. The mechanism to achieve this is called the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM).
It also leans on Horizon Europe, to play a pivotal role in leveraging national public and private investments. Through partnerships with industry and member States, it will support research and innovation on transport technologies, including batteries, clean hydrogen, low-carbon steel making, circular bio-based sectors and the built environment.
India is confident of exceeding Paris COP commitments. In the Paris Agreement, India has committed to an Intended Nationally Determined Contributions target of achieving 40% of its total electricity generation from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.
Japan has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050.
The UK is legally committed to be carbon neutral by 2050, and moving away from the heating of homes by natural gas is likely to be the most difficult part of the country's fossil fuel phase out.
Legislation and initiatives to phase out coal
Phase-out of fossil fuel power plants
Alternative energy refers to any source of energy that can substitute the role of fossil fuels. Renewable energy, or energy that is harnessed from renewable sources, is an alternative energy. However, alternative energy can refer to non renewable sources as well, like nuclear energy. Between the alternative sources of energy are: solar energy, hydroelectricity, marine energy, wind energy, geothermal energy, biofuels, ethanol and Hydrogen.
Energy efficiency is complementary to the use of alternative energy sources, when phasing-out fossil fuels.
Renewable energy is useful energy that is collected from renewable resources, which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, including carbon neutral sources like sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. The term often also encompasses biomass as well, whose carbon neutral status is under debate.  This type of energy source stands in contrast to fossil fuels, which are being used far more quickly than they are being replenished.
Based on REN21's 2017 report, renewables contributed 19.3% to humans' global energy consumption and 24.5% to their generation of electricity in 2015 and 2016, respectively. This energy consumption is divided as 8.9% coming from traditional biomass, 4.2% as heat energy (modern biomass, geothermal and solar heat), 3.9% from hydroelectricity and the remaining 2.2% is electricity from wind, solar, geothermal, and other forms of biomass. In 2017, worldwide investments in renewable energy amounted to US$279.8 billion with China accounting for 45% of the global investments, and the United States and Europe both around 15%. Globally there were an estimated 10.5 million jobs associated with the renewable energy industries, with solar photovoltaics being the largest renewable employer. Renewable energy systems are rapidly becoming more efficient and cheaper and their share of total energy consumption is increasing. As of 2019, more than two-thirds of worldwide newly installed electricity capacity was renewable. Growth in consumption of coal and oil could end by 2020 due to increased uptake of renewables and natural gas. As of 2020, in most countries, photovoltaic solar and onshore wind are the cheapest forms of building new electricity-generating plants.
At the national level, at least 30 nations around the world already have renewable energy contributing more than 20 percent of their energy supply. National renewable energy markets are projected to continue to grow strongly in the coming decade and beyond. At least two countries, Iceland and Norway, generate all their electricity using renewable energy already, and many other countries have the set a goal to reach 100% renewable energy in the future. At least 47 nations around the world already have over 50 percent of electricity from renewable resources. Renewable energy resources exist over wide geographical areas, in contrast to fossil fuels, which are concentrated in a limited number of countries. Rapid deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies is resulting in significant energy security, climate change mitigation, and economic benefits. In international public opinion surveys there is strong support for promoting renewable sources such as solar power and wind power.While many renewable energy projects are large-scale, renewable technologies are also suited to rural and remote areas and developing countries, where energy is often crucial in human development. As most of renewable energy technologies provide electricity, renewable energy deployment is often applied in conjunction with further electrification, which has several benefits: electricity can be converted to heat, can be converted into mechanical energy with high efficiency, and is clean at the point of consumption. In addition, electrification with renewable energy is more efficient and therefore leads to significant reductions in primary energy requirements.
In 2015, hydroelectric energy generated 16.6% of the world's total electricity and 70% of all renewable electricity. In Europe and North America environmental concerns around land flooded by large reservoirs ended 30 years of dam construction in the 1990s. Since then large dams and reservoirs continue to be built in countries like China, Brazil and India. Run-of-the-river hydroelectricity and small hydro have become popular alternatives to conventional dams that may create reservoirs in environmentally sensitive areas.
Wind power or wind energy is the use of wind to provide mechanical power through wind turbines to turn electric generators for electrical power. Wind power is a popular sustainable, renewable source of power that has a much smaller impact on the environment compared to burning fossil fuels.
Wind farms consist of many individual wind turbines, which are connected to the electric power transmission network. Onshore wind is an inexpensive source of electric power, competitive with or in many places cheaper than coal or gas plants. Onshore wind farms have a greater visual impact on the landscape than other power stations, as they need to be spread over more land and need to be built away from dense population. Offshore wind is steadier and stronger than on land and offshore farms have less visual impact, but construction and maintenance costs are significantly higher. Small onshore wind farms can feed some energy into the grid or provide power to isolated off-grid locations.
The wind is an intermittent energy source, which cannot be dispatched on demand. Locally, it gives variable power, which is consistent from year to year but varies greatly over shorter time scales. Therefore, it must be used together with other power sources to give a reliable supply. Power-management techniques such as having dispatchable power sources (often gas-fired power plant or hydroelectric power), excess capacity, geographically distributed turbines, exporting and importing power to neighboring areas, grid storage, reducing demand when wind production is low, and curtailing occasional excess wind power, are used to overcome these problems. As the proportion of wind power in a region increases the grid may need to be upgraded. Weather forecasting permits the electric-power network to be readied for the predictable variations in production that occur.In 2019, wind supplied 1430 TWh of electricity, which was 5.3% of worldwide electrical generation, with the global installed wind power capacity reaching more than 651 GW, an increase of 10% over 2018.
In 2017, solar power provided 1.7% of total worldwide electricity production, growing at 35% per annum. By 2020 the solar contribution to global final energy consumption is expected to exceed 1%.
Solar photovoltaic cells convert sunlight into electricity and many solar photovoltaic power stations have been built. The size of these stations has increased progressively over the last decade with frequent new capacity records. Many of these plants are integrated with agriculture and some use innovative tracking systems that follow the sun's daily path across the sky to generate more electricity than conventional fixed-mounted systems. Solar power plants have no fuel costs or emissions during operation.
Concentrated solar power
Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. The concentrated heat is then used as a heat source for a conventional power plant. A wide range of concentrating technologies exists; the most developed are the parabolic trough, the concentrating linear fresnel reflector, the Stirling dish and the solar power tower. Various techniques are used to track the Sun and focus light. In all of these systems a working fluid is heated by the concentrated sunlight, and is then used for power generation or energy storage.
The 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report identifies nuclear energy as one of the technologies that can provide electricity with less than 5% of the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of coal power. There are more than 60 nuclear reactors shown as under construction in the list of Nuclear power by country with China leading at 23. Globally, more nuclear power reactors have closed than opened in recent years but overall capacity has increased. China has stated its plans to double nuclear generation by 2030. India also plans to greatly increase its nuclear power.
Several countries have enacted laws to cease construction on new nuclear power stations. Several European countries have debated nuclear phase-outs and others have completely shut down some reactors. Three nuclear accidents have influenced the slowdown of nuclear power: the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the United States, the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the USSR, and the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Germany has permanently shut down eight of its 17 reactors and pledged to close the rest by the end of 2022. Italy voted overwhelmingly to keep their country non-nuclear. Switzerland and Spain have banned the construction of new reactors. Japan's prime minister has called for a dramatic reduction in Japan's reliance on nuclear power. Taiwan's president did the same. Shinzō Abe, prime minister of Japan since December 2012, announced a plan to restart some of the 54 Japanese nuclear power plants and to continue some nuclear reactors under construction.
As of 2016, countries such as Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Norway have no nuclear power stations and remain opposed to nuclear power. Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland are phasing-out their nuclear power.
Biomass is biological material from living, or recently living organisms, most often referring to plants or plant-derived materials. As a renewable energy source, biomass can either be used directly, or indirectly – once or converted into another type of energy product such as biofuel. Biomass can be converted to energy in three ways: thermal conversion, chemical conversion, and biochemical conversion.
Using biomass as a fuel produces air pollution in the form of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, NOx (nitrogen oxides), VOCs (volatile organic compounds), particulates and other pollutants at levels above those from traditional fuel sources such as coal or natural gas in some cases (such as with indoor heating and cooking). Utilization of wood biomass as a fuel can also produce fewer particulate and other pollutants than open burning as seen in wildfires or direct heat applications. Black carbon – a pollutant created by combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass – is possibly the second largest contributor to global warming.:56–57 In 2009 a Swedish study of the giant brown haze that periodically covers large areas in South Asia determined that it had been principally produced by biomass burning, and to a lesser extent by fossil fuel burning. Denmark has increased the use of biomass and garbage, and decreased the use of coal.
Moving away from fossil fuels will require changes not only in the way energy is supplied, but in the way it is used, and reducing the amount of energy required to deliver various goods or services is essential. Opportunities for improvement on the demand side of the energy equation are as rich and diverse as those on the supply side, and often offer significant economic benefits.
A sustainable energy economy requires commitments to both renewables and efficiency. Renewable energy and energy efficiency are said to be the "twin pillars" of sustainable energy policy. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has explained that both resources must be developed in order to stabilize and reduce carbon dioxide emissions:
Efficiency is essential to slowing the energy demand growth so that rising clean energy supplies can make deep cuts in fossil fuel use. If energy use grows too fast, renewable energy development will chase a receding target. Likewise, unless clean energy supplies come online rapidly, slowing demand growth will only begin to reduce total emissions; reducing the carbon content of energy sources is also needed.
The IEA has stated that renewable energy and energy efficiency policies are complementary tools for the development of a sustainable energy future, and should be developed together instead of being developed in isolation.
Phase-out of fossil fuel vehicles
Many countries and cities have introduced bans on the sales of new internal combustion engine vehicles, requiring all new cars to be electric vehicles or otherwise powered by clean, non-emitting sources. Such bans include the United Kingdom by 2035 and Norway by 2025. Many transit authorities are working to purchase only electric buses while also restricting use of ICE vehicles in the city center to limit air pollution. Many US states have a zero-emissions vehicle mandate, incrementally requiring a certain percent of cars sold to be electric. The German term de: Verkehrswende ("traffic transition" analogous to "Energiewende", energetic transition) calls for a shift from combustion powered road transport to bicycles, walking and rail transport and the replacement of remaining road vehicles with electric traction.
Biofuels, in the form of liquid fuels derived from plant materials, are entering the market. However, many of the biofuels that are currently being supplied have been criticised for their adverse impacts on the natural environment, food security, and land use.
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Those corporations that continue to invest in new fossil fuel exploration, new fossil fuel exploitation, are really in flagrant breach of their fiduciary duty because the science is abundantly clear that this is something we can no longer do.— Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
In 2013, the Gallup organization determined that 41% of Americans wanted less emphasis placed on coal energy, versus 31% who wanted more. Large majorities wanted more emphasis placed on solar (76%), wind (71%), and natural gas (65%).
Environmental Defense Fund
The US-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has taken a stand in favor of natural gas production and hydraulic fracturing, while pressing for stricter environmental controls on gas drilling, as a feasible way to replace coal. The organization has funded studies jointly with the petroleum industry on the environmental effects of natural gas production. The organization sees natural gas as a way to quickly replace coal, and that natural gas in time will be replaced by renewable energy. The policy has been criticized by some environmentalists.
Other groups supporting a coal moratorium
- Co-op America
- Energy Action Coalition
- Kansas Sierra Club
- Lead for Energy Action Now (CLEAN)
- Rainforest Action Network
- Rising Tide Australia
- Sierra Club
- Step It Up 2007
Prominent individuals supporting a coal moratorium
If you're a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration.
Prominent individuals supporting a coal phase-out
- Eric Schmidt, when CEO of Google, called for replacing all fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy in twenty years.
- Carbon bubble
- Clear Skies Act of 2003 (United States)
- Eco-economic decoupling
- Electricity generation
- Energy policy
- Environmental impact of the coal industry
- Fossil fuel divestment
- COVID-19 pandemic's effect on the fossil fuel industry
- Georgia Power
- Green growth
- Green recovery
- Measures taken to address the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
- Negative externalities
- New Source Review
- Nuclear power phase-out
- POLES, an energy model
- Renewable energy commercialisation
- Repurposing offshore drilling rigs for storing carbon
- Thorium-based nuclear power
- Torrefaction, of biomass, for a coal-like replacement
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