In Just 10 Years, the World Could Completely Phase Out Fossil Fuels

April 19, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

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Photo credit: TAFE SA TONSLEY/flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Finally, some good news!

According to an article published by a major energy think tank in the UK, the world’s obsession with and reliance on burning fossil fuels could be completely phased out in as little as 10 years.

Professor Benjamin Sovacool, Director of the Sussex Energy Group at the University of Sussex, asserts that the next great energy revolution could take place in a fraction of the time of major past events.

Although it is possible, it doesn’t mean that the transition will be easy. It will take a collaborative, interdisciplinary, and multi-scalar effort that has adapted and learned from the trials and tribulations of previous energy and technology transitions.

"Moving to a new, cleaner energy system would require significant shifts in technology, political regulations, tariffs and pricing regimes, and the behaviour of users and adopters,” explained Sovacool in a press release.

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In a paper published in the journal Energy Research and Social Science, Sovacool analyzes energy transitions throughout history and argues that only looking towards the past can often paint a bleak picture.

For example, moving from wood to coal in Europe took between 96 and 160 years, and the switch to electricity took 47 to 69 years. However, due to the scarcity of resources, the threat of climate change, and improved technological innovation, Sovacool is certain a global shift to cleaner energy could happen exceedingly quick.

The study highlights examples of speedier transitions that, for some reason, are often overlooked. For example, the Canadian province of Ontario completed a shift from coal in 11 years; a major household energy program in Indonesia took just 3 years to switch two-thirds of their population from kerosene stoves to LPG stoves; and France’s nuclear power programme saw supply in the market increase from 4 percent in 1970 to 40 percent in 1982.

However, each of these situations involved strong government intervention coupled with shifts in consumer behavior, often driven by incentives and pressure from stakeholders.

"The mainstream view of energy transitions as long, protracted affairs, often taking decades or centuries to occur, is not always supported by the evidence,” explained Sovacool. "Left to evolve by itself — as it has largely been in the past — this can indeed take many decades. A lot of stars have to align all at once.”

"But we have learnt a sufficient amount from previous transitions that I believe future transformations can happen much more rapidly," he continued.

Although past events can be useful in shaping our understanding of previous energy transitions, they don’t necessarily predict the success of new ones. History doesn’t always have to repeat itself.

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