Fossil-fuel phase-out source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fossil-fuel_phase-out

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. 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.[1]

Types of fossil fuels[edit]

Coal[edit]

Coal-fired power plants provided 30% of consumed electricity in the United States in 2016.[2] This is the Castle Gate Plant near Helper, Utah.

Coal use peaked in 2013[3] 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.[4] However as of 2017, coal supplied over a quarter of the world's primary energy[5] and about 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.[6] Phasing out coal has short-term health and environmental benefits which exceed the costs,[7] and without it the 2 °C target in the Paris Agreement cannot be met;[8] but some countries still favor coal,[9] and there is much disagreement about how quickly it should be phased out.[10][11]

As of 2018, 30 countries and many sub-national governments and businesses[12] had become members of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, each making a declaration to advance the transition away from unabated coal power generation.[13] As of 2019, 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.[14]

In 2019 the UN Secretary General said that countries should stop building new coal power plants from 2020 or face 'total disaster'.[15]

Oil[edit]

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill discharges 4.9 million barrels (780,000 m3)

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.[16]

Crude oil is also refined into many other products (i.e. alkenes, lubricants, (paraffin) wax, sulfur, bulk tar, asphalt, petroleum coke, aromatic petrochemicals).

Natural gas[edit]

Natural gas well in Germany

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.[17] 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.[18] 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.[19]

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)[20] and changes to building regulations to reduce the use of gas heating.[21]

Natural gas is also cracked into ethane and used as a base material for producing plastics (most of which are non-biodegradable).

Reasons[edit]

The reasons for phasing out fossil fuels are:

Health[edit]

Most of the millions[23] of premature deaths from air pollution are due to fossil fuels.[24] 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.[25] 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.[26]

Climate change mitigation[edit]

Fossil-fuel phase-out is the largest part of limiting global warming as they account for over 70% of greenhouse gas emissions,[27] but as of 2020 needs to move 4 times faster to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.[28]

Employment and Other[edit]

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.[29]

A move towards bioplastics (to replace regular fossil-fuel plastics) can help prevent plastic pollution as many bioplastics are biodegradable.

Studies about fossil fuel phase-out[edit]

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.[30]

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.[31][32][33] The report observes that "one of the most powerful climate policy levers is also the simplest: stop digging for more fossil fuels".[33]: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.[34][35][36]

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%.[37]

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.[38]

Challenges of fossil fuel phase-out[edit]

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.[39]

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.[40]

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.[29] 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.[41] 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.[42]

Major initiatives and legislation to phase out fossil fuels[edit]

China[edit]

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.[43] 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.[43]

EU[edit]

At the end of 2019, the European Union launched its European Green Deal. It included:

It also leans on 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.[46]

United Kingdom[edit]

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.[47]

Legislation and initiatives to phase out coal[edit]

Phase-out of fossil fuel power plants[edit]

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[edit]

The worldwide growth of renewable energy is shown by the green line[48]

Renewable energy is energy that comes from resources which are naturally replenished such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. As of 2014, 19% of global final energy consumption comes from renewable resources, with 9% of all energy from traditional biomass, mainly used for heating, 1% from biofuels, 4% from hydroelectricity and 4% from biomass, geothermal or solar heat. Popular renewables (wind, solar, geothermal and biomass for power) accounted for another 1.4% and are growing rapidly.[49]

Hydroelectricity[edit]

Chief Joseph Dam near Bridgeport, Washington, US, is a major run-of-the-river station without a sizeable reservoir.

In 2015, hydroelectric energy generated 16.6% of the world's total electricity and 70% of all renewable electricity.[50] 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[edit]

First wind farm consisting of 7,5 MW Enercon E-126 turbines, Estinnes, Belgium, 20 July 2010, two months before completion; note the 2-part blades.

A wind farm is a group of wind turbines in the same location used to produce electric power. A large wind farm may consist of several hundred individual wind turbines, and cover an extended area of hundreds of square miles, but the land between the turbines may be used for agricultural or other purposes. A wind farm may also be located offshore.

Wind power has grown dramatically since 2005 and by 2015 supplied almost 1% of global energy consumption.[51]

Many of the largest operational onshore wind farms are located in the United States and China. The Gansu Wind Farm in China has over 5,000 MW installed with a goal of 20,000 MW by 2020. China has several other "wind power bases" of similar size. The Alta Wind Energy Center in California, United States is the largest onshore wind farm outside of China, with a capacity of 1020 MW of power.[52] As of February 2012, the Walney Wind Farm in the United Kingdom is the largest offshore wind farm in the world at 367 MW, followed by Thanet Offshore Wind Project (300 MW), also in the United Kingdom. As of February 2012, the Fântânele-Cogealac Wind Farm in Romania is the largest onshore wind farm in Europe at 600 MW.[53]

There are many large wind farms under construction and these include Sinus Holding Wind Farm (700 MW), Anholt Offshore Wind Farm (400 MW), BARD Offshore 1 (400 MW), Clyde Wind Farm (350 MW), Greater Gabbard wind farm (500 MW), Lincs Wind Farm (270 MW), London Array (1000 MW), Lower Snake River Wind Project (343 MW), Macarthur Wind Farm (420 MW), Shepherds Flat Wind Farm (845 MW), and Sheringham Shoal (317 MW).

Wind power in Denmark produced the equivalent of 42.1% of total electricity consumption in 2015,[54][55] however, use of wind for heating is minor.[56][57][58][59]

Solar[edit]

In 2017, solar power provided 1.7% of total worldwide electricity production, growing at 35% per annum.[60] By 2020 the solar contribution to global final energy consumption is expected to exceed 1%.[61]

Solar photovoltaics[edit]

The 71.8 MW Lieberose Photovoltaic Park in Germany

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[edit]

The 150 MW Andasol solar power station is a commercial parabolic trough solar thermal power plant, located in Spain. The Andasol plant uses tanks of molten salt to store solar energy so that it can continue generating electricity even when the sun isn't shining.[62]

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.[63]

Biofuels[edit]

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.[64][65]

Biomass[edit]

Biomass is biological material from living, or recently living organisms, most often referring to plants or plant-derived materials.[66] 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).[67][68][69] 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.[70] Black carbon – a pollutant created by combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass – is possibly the second largest contributor to global warming.[71]: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.[72] Denmark has increased the use of biomass and garbage,[73] and decreased the use of coal.[74]

Nuclear energy[edit]

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.[75] 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.[76] 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.[77] Italy voted overwhelmingly to keep their country non-nuclear.[78] Switzerland and Spain have banned the construction of new reactors.[79] Japan's prime minister has called for a dramatic reduction in Japan's reliance on nuclear power.[80] 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.[81][82] Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland are phasing-out their nuclear power.[76][82][83][84]

Energy efficiency[edit]

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.[citation needed] 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.[85]

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:[86]

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.[86]

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.[87]

Phase-out of fossil fuel vehicles[edit]

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.[88][89] Such bans include the United Kingdom by 2035[90] 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.

Public opinion[edit]

Protest at the Legislative Building in Olympia, Washington. Ted Nation an activist for several decades beside protest sign

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.

Opinion polls[edit]

Gallup[edit]

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%).[92]

Environmental Defense Fund[edit]

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.[93] 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.[94] The policy has been criticized by some environmentalists.[95]

Other groups supporting a coal moratorium[edit]

Prominent individuals supporting a coal moratorium[edit]

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[edit]

See also[edit]

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