Is a Europe powered completely by renewable energy possible?  In 2005, less than 10% of the EU’s energy consumption came from renewable sources. In 2014, this figure was 16%. It’s certainly a step in the right direction… but is the transition happening too slowly? And will it ever be possible to replace fossil fuels 100%?

Industry and the commercial sector are key here. There is much that governments can do in terms of setting targets and facilitating a transition, but businesses account for roughly half of all electricity consumption on the planet. Last December, Google announced it would be powering its data centres and offices around the world with 100% renewable energy in 2017, and other companies are making their own plans to transition to renewables.

However, not everybody is convinced. Sceptics point out that progress in moving away from fossil fuels has been slow, and that those countries that have made huge leaps (such as Sweden and – outside the EU – Iceland and Norway) tend to have smaller populations and significant hydroelectric resources. There is also the problem of intermittency (i.e. what happens when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining?), as well as the question of how to store and transport electricity generated by renewables.

On February 2nd 2017, we attended an event in Brussels co-hosted by Google and RE100 (a non-profit initiative of businesses committed to 100% renewable power). The event focused on how businesses are moving to renewable energy and how EU energy policies can best support this transition. We put some of your questions to the policymakers and business representatives at the event.

Curious to know more about renewable energy in Europe? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).Google_Renewable_energy_5

We had a question from Alina, who asked: “How do we know if renewable’s will [replace] 100% of energy though?”

To get a response, we spoke to Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission and European Commissioner for Energy Union. What would he say to Alina?

To get another reaction, we also put Alina’s comment to Monica Mireles Serrano, Senior Policy Advisor at IKEA. What does the situation look like from the perspective of European businesses?

Finally, we also had a comment from Bart on our “Suggest a Debate” page, who wondered if the challenge of storing and transporting renewable energy had finally been solved. To get a response, we spoke to Francois Sterin, Director of Global Infrastructure at Google. What would he say?

Can renewables ever replace fossil fuels 100%? If so, how long will it take? And has the challenge of storage and transportation of renewable energy been solved? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Lars Schmidt


143 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. Roberto Patrone

    NO! and is easy to understand. for every kwh you intend to produce through this kind of unreliable sources you need to have the same amount of kwh ready to be produced from a standard and controllable power plant. This also means that the standard power plants need to be ready and usually underused with a low efficiency.

    • Duncan

      After that comment from oil, coal and gas representative Roberto Patrone, let’s take time to consider just how much renewable energy potential remains untapped. In the UK, the one constant is extreme weather, we have wind in abundance, we also have daylight. Not vast swathes of daylight like spain has, but enough that some solar panels on the roof of my uncle’s roof has halved his electricity bill. So In a country where it’s rarely sunny, half of the electricity needs of a household are met through solar energy. There are solar power generating windows available also. It stands to reason therefore that almost all the energy requirements of the average house can be met by solar energy generated within the footprint of that house, throw in a few wind turbine farms which are almost always able to produce here, far more potential than solar energy, and you can replace the need for gas heating with electric heating and it would be 100% renewables. The only real barrier I see to transferring to renewable energy for all our energy needs is the costs involved, this key problem is a symptom of our capitalist culture, if we lived in a world where money didn’t exist and the best way to do things was simply the way that was implemented we’d already be using 100% renewable energy.

    • Faddi Zsolt

      In 1 second so many kwh’s reach the Earth’s surface which is equal to whole worlds several year long consumption.

    • Carolyn Chase

      Uhhhh, unreliable? Last time I checked, the sun, and gravity are quite reliable. If you’re just referring to wind, we better hope the earth keeps turning or we’ll have no problems at all ;-). The issue is how you think about the design of things and what you’re used. Sure, transition issues have to be addressed, but there is plenty of renewable power that will be cheaper after we make the transition. Just think – no having to ship dangerous fuels over distances long and short. I could go on, but my point is, you are only looking through your understanding of the past and not considering the benefits of innovations for the future.

    • Roberto Patrone

      That’s not the issue in fact. The issue is the efficiency and the unreliability

    • Roberto Patrone

      Anyway the real amount of energy per square meter on the sea level is not the one you have outside the atmosphere

    • Christofer Sjöholm

      Few things are so reliable as the sun rising and the wind blowing. Hydroelectric power, that’s ben used as a source of power will in the future be exclusively used as equalization and compensation.

    • Roberto Patrone

      Christofer Sjöholm you need the energy when you need not when the sun and the wind give you it. there is no other possibility that have other sources ready to start and give you the energy if the sun or the wind don’t. this means you CAN’T replace standard sources of energy

  2. Wolfgang Mizelli

    there are no renewables. suncollectors, dams and wind generators do not regenerate. and the laws of thermodynamics are still valid.

    • Тиберий Баръмов

      What an argumentation :)) Теоретично не е невъзможно. Началото вече е положено, останалото е въпрос на оптимизация.

    • Андони Андреев

      Nuclear energy is one if the most beautiful things ever made by mankind. I agree that green energy should continue to develop and should cover different sectors of the economy, but the whole EU running on green energy is simply hilarious.

    • Vinc Caz

      Андони Андреев you didn’t change your opinion about that yet??? come to seehow the nuclear powerplant are dangerous, even with strong lobying thez had to close a lot of theses in france

    • Андони Андреев

      I was really sad when I learnt from Le Figaro that France plans to shut them down… :( The NPPs are just too beautiful, reliable and useful.

    • Vinc Caz

      Is not beautiful, flower are beautiful, art is beautiful the NPPs are maybe useful but not beautiful. do not read Le Figaro, is the arm of capitalist and right wing :p

    • Андони Андреев

      But it’s written in a more “ordinary”/ “people’s” French, so I can easily read it. I prefer Le Monde, but there the French language is more rich and complicated and sometimes I even wonder have I ever studied this language :D

    • Vinc Caz

      Yeah Le monde is not easy to read even for some frenchs people

  3. Renato Toni

    No! Il pay back period è tale che produce una accelerazione del consumo di energia tradizionale necessaria per produrre i generatori di energia alternativa.

  4. Renato Toni

    No! Il pay back period è tale che produce una accelerazione del consumo di energia tradizionale necessaria per produrre i generatori di energia alternativa.

  5. Borislav Valkov

    Only few countries accross the globe have the potential to go 100% renewables. As Mr Patrone said the main problem is that there must be standart controlable power plants acting as balancers. My state has the luxury of owning pumped- storage hydroelectric power plant that’s in the top 20 most efective in the world(1455 megawats) which acts as a balancer but still it’s not going to help us became 100% renewable.

  6. Anatilde Alves

    It’s possible if people just start buying those electric cars, built those infrastructures that allow people to actually get around in those. FYI nuclear energy is considered renewable😉

  7. Anatilde Alves

    It’s possible if people just start buying those electric cars, built those infrastructures that allow people to actually get around in those. FYI nuclear energy is considered renewable

  8. Monique Taxhet

    It will have to eventually as fossil fuels are going to run out. The nuclear solution can’t be a 100% replacement for fossil fuel as it produces to much waste needing disposal and, as proven already can be very dangerous. So the world will have to work together to find a way of using renewables all the way. Not that this will happen in our lifetime, next millennium may be.

  9. Тиберий Баръмов

    What an argumentation :)) Теоретично не е невъзможно. Началото вече е положено, останалото е въпрос на оптимизация.

  10. Viorika Motoi

    Si se puede, no necesitamos el petrolio de nadie ,el Sol brilla parra todos! Claro a las grandes corporaciones constructoras de maquinas y coches no les interesa para poder someter a todos los pueblos a la dependecia de sus productos al precio que ellos quere!!!!!!!

  11. Bobi Dochev

    Of course NOT!!! Just check what is the daily usage of oil then calculate what amount of energy is that then calculate what amount of new “green” power you should install!!!
    Now reaped the process with the coal for house heating and electricity production. If you still believe it can I can only hope one day the medicine will move significantly further and will help ;)

    So dear environmentalist please stop that shit how dangerous the cars are first of all lets solve the problem with the Fossil Power Plants it is much bigger!!!

    • Tchoum Xav

      That’s not sustainable nor affordable.

    • Davide Albertazzi

      Tchoum Xav fission not, but fusion is
      unlimited and clean

  12. Bobi Dochev

    Of course NOT!!! Just check what is the daily usage of oil then calculate what amount of energy is that then calculate what amount of new “green” power you should install!!!
    Now reaped the process with the coal for house heating and electricity production. If you still believe it can I can only hope one day the medicine will move significantly further and will help ;)

    So dear environmentalist please stop that shxx how dangerous the cars are first of all lets solve the problem with the Fossil Power Plants it is much bigger!!!

    • Duncan

      Oil is also used to make polymers. So simply looking at it’s consumption doesn’t show the figures required for finding alternative energies.

  13. Tchoum Xav

    It shouldn’t be a question, it should be an imperative.
    Slow the economy, slow production, forget growth as an indicator.
    Well-being is what we should be after, not tedious jobs to pretend we’re “useful” to one another.

    • Duncan

      If only we had a nuclear power source sufficiently far enough away from everyone that the risks would be minimal yet it supply enough energy to meet our requirements . . . . . . . Oh look, the Sun! Seriously renewable energy is ample to the task. The issue we have is energy management.

  14. Martynas Nagevičius

    Yes, of course. Only state intervention we need to achieve this goal is to abolish direct and indirect subsidies for the fossil fuel.

  15. Vinc Caz

    Андони Андреев you didn’t change your opinion about that yet??? come to seehow the nuclear powerplant are dangerous, even with strong lobying thez had to close a lot of theses in france

  16. Thom Browne

    Wave power has yes to be developed and thats certainly renewable , So Yes to question posed ~~~

    • Christofer Sjöholm

      Deep sea current electric have just as big potential and might be easier to develop.

  17. Ingo Wagner

    If we stop focussing on electricity only, harvest the full potential of re heat and cold, start cascading energy use, they can. Also somebody would have to tackle transport before this is a serious quest

  18. Chalks Corriette

    For me personally, I look forward to the day when we can live our lives with out polluting our planet. Whatever the technology ends up being, I will be happy to see it and use it. Things may not look so good right now, and I’m sure within a short few years it will be much better. You never know, we may find a way to clean the air faster and cheaper than we can find a way to produce clean energy. Who knows!

  19. Rafa Díez Domínguez

    Answer: NO, they could provide certain energy for critical works, but not to maintain the current energy waste. To produce 1 solar panel you need 2 tons of coal, to produce wind turbine you need 20 tons of cooper. All these devices will work if the primary energy is working (enough sun radiation, enough wind) and even if you cover the earth with this devices they will arrive at 10% of the energy that humans currently use. Needles to say the huge amounts of lithium and other materials for produce bateries.

    • Christofer Sjöholm

      A third of the surface of Sweden covered in solar panels would suffice for the whole worlds energy consumption.

  20. Jean Claude Vanhoof

    By limiting the population to a sustainable level for the planet and by adjusting the type of engine, there are possibilities. See the side of collective heaters using depth to heat water etc etc

  21. Mario Ghezzi

    Quante ghigliottine per i poveri uccelli come le aquile, quanti paesaggi violentati dall’ideologia ambientalista ….

    • Jacalyn

      Glad I’ve finally found soihmetng I agree with!

  22. EU Reform- Proactive

    Not in the foreseeable future or the next generation! “Ever”- is godly wisdom- known to EU politicians only!

    Looking at “professional” world energy projections done by EIA or similar institutions between 2012- 2040- gives a very good idea what the most likely development will be. Global 2012 power consumption (net) was ~18,600 TWh. Gross generation has to be ~18% higher due to grid & storage losses.

    They project an estimated 48% increase over 28 years = ~1.7%/year average. On condition & provided population growth, no major war, rise or fall in living standards and energy affordability for the masses remain stable. Nuclear is at the bottom, liquid fuel on top. Natural gas show the greatest increases. “Renewables ” show a similar increase as liquid fuel. Coal will remains stagnant & show no increase.

    No major or revolutionary changes are on the horizon, assuming that yet unknown new inventions & new technologies to men will not become usable, affordable but remain unavailable for the next ~30-50 years. The current mix will change but not change “significantly”- but never 100%!

    Further, OECD countries will grow less than non OECD countries. That indicates where all major developments & actions will occur. Provided, all find employment and can afford the rising cost in energy consumption to support raising their living standards as well.

    However, due to lower growth in the OECD & higher capabilities- a quicker change to renewable energy should be easier to achieve in OECD countries.

    • Duncan

      I think there’s a critical difference between can they and will they. The answer to the first is yes, the answer to the second is the one you’ve just given.

    • Mikael Andersson

      Search on youtube VPRO documentary and click on “the breakthrough of renewable energy” it’s 46min. Short about how much cheaper both solcells and windpower have been last 5-years.
      This documentary was made during 2016.

  23. kevin

    No , well not the current ones ,and please get rid of those horrible giant wind turbines

  24. Peter Van Elslander

    let ‘s ask Musk his idea on this, i heard he is making a giga-factory, and i am willing to bet it will be running entirely on renewables

    • Marek Nowicki

      Fuel cells are fossil type. Nuclear is fossil as well.

    • Sean Arclight

      The Aluminium fuel cell is not a fossil fuel intensive type of energy source , in fact using the RUSI method of extraction and using recycled aluminium as well, this gives it an incredibly low carbon footprint, The casing is also reusable and the emissions from such a device would be hydrogen and oxygen when the aluminium oxide is reheated to remake the plates. As to nuclear energy, the mining, and construction of power plants are very bad in creating carbon and the worst pollution from these are a range of things like NO2 which is a worse climate gas than CO2.. Also, Radon from fuel processing and a range of other radinuclides. Then there is Fukushima type accidents and reprocessing pollution.

    • Sean Arclight

      To be specific Fossil fuel is the burning of hydro carbons (ie oil and coal)

  25. Bódis Kata

    Regarding energy issues most people think in terms of households and forget about the energy need of transportation and industry.

  26. Roberto Patrone

    Christofer Sjöholm you need the energy when you need not when the sun and the wind give you it. there is no other possibility that have other sources ready to start and give you the energy if the sun or the wind don’t. this means you CAN’T replace standard sources of energy

  27. Fausto Palermo

    and citizen are forced to pay for it, meanwhile those giant company raise the price up milking blood from people veins

  28. Maia Alexandrova

    I think pollution, global warming and dangerous nuclear power plant incidents will eventually force humanity to drop the traditional energy sources completely by the end of this century. We simply have no other choice, if we want to ensure the survival of human life on Earth beyond our own life. Renewable energy is the future and it is not only possible, but imperative on us to find the right ways and technologies to utilise it 100%. The problem is that it requires much greater effort, readiness to invest funds, care for the planet and vision for the future and not that many energy companies and governments have them. They prefer to rely on easy money from oil and gas, rather than trouble their brains and invent new technologies. Saudi Arabia is a good example of this kind of laziness – all the sun they have and yet they couldn’t care less about using it. I think this is the most important thing to change. When the mentality of people changes, then it will be very easy to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. We are not only talking about sun and wind, but also water and waste. I imagine the future when no waste will be left to rot in land fields or in the oceans and everything will be recycled or used to produce gas. Deserts do not have to remain such forever – they can all be covered with solar panels and provide a constant supply of electricity to millions of people in Africa and Asia. Rivers, seas and oceans also have an enormous power potential but this is still mostly wasted. Iceland, Norway and Sweden are a proof that when there is a will, there is a way. They will probably be the first to achieve 100% reliance on renewable energy. The rest of the world can only learn from them.

  29. Ştefan Schindele

    I mean just as much as diesel and coal replaced sterling 100%, like…not. Some scarce fossil fuel consumptions will exist, yeah. Trillionth less than now, but yes.

  30. TS

    Intermittent renewables replacing fossil fuels is a joke, mainly taking in mind the “Transportation Sector” heavily dominated by fossil fuels.
    “The 15 largest container ships emit as much air pollution as the world’s 760 millions cars”
    Where are the wind-powered ships? In the medieval era.

    “Renewable Energy is all Firsts:”
    “First battery 1749”
    “First solar cell 1877”
    “First windmill generator 1887”
    “Unreliables are a very mature technology, no matter the propaganda do expect any major breakthroughs. We need to go with what we have and find real scalable solutions.”
    “Time is short & getting shorter”
    “Suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.” – Dr. James Hansen(climate scientist)

  31. Bogdán Róbert

    Not with today’s technology. We need to burn fossil fuel to maintain or even accelerate the technological progress rate, so we will have better options in the future, not available jet.

  32. Paolo Ortenzi

    4 days out of 365? educate yourself… When the REAL costs of the german program Energiewiende will be revealed, it will be a shock for a lot of people…

  33. Anas M Abdullahi

    Yes of course it is possible, but that is not happening in the near future. We are moving in the right direction and slowly but surely getting there. In the coming 20-50 years we will be close to the 100% mark given that we have advanced our technological competences fairly quickly the recent years. But it is hard to imagine that every household will get their energy from renewable resources since we have to create the same amount of energy that had been created before the replacement of fossil fuels. That is a problem that prevents the progression towards 100% renewable resources.

    There might be some inconsistencies when it comes to the creation of renewable energy because the energy is dependent on things we can not control such as the sun and the wind. But that can easily be patched by importing renewable energy from other countries that has an excess of that energy.

  34. Bobi Dochev

    Completely and 110% NO! It will be real achievement if it can replace even 50%.
    If you left cars as your biggest enemy and focus on the Fossil power plants and replacement of the Fossil energy for the heating of the households – then you have chance to achieve something and save the world…

    • Bódis Kata

      I think you’re forgetting about the industry and public transportation.

    • Bobi Dochev

      Bódis Kata The industry, transportation – not so! Electric car are not much friendlier to the environment then the regular ICE cars

  35. Chris Haji-michael

    It costs today about €20,000 to put a solar system on a house to provide half the energy needs for that house. This is not a big cost or area. If batteries are added and done on a large scale then my guess about €30,000 invested on the birth of a child will provide all the power needs for life, including transport needs. The cost is not as high as people think.

    • Ante Radnić

      Who will recycle all these solars in 20-25 yrs?

    • Nigel Giddings

      Solar Panel useful life 25 – 30 years, batteries much less…. hardly a solution for life

  36. Nando Aidos

    Is the Earth round? Asked our ancestors.
    Will Ford Model Ts ever replace horse buggies? Asked our great grandparents?
    Will electric locomotives ever replace steam engines? Asked our grandparents.
    Will the transistor ever replace vacuum tubes? Asked our parents.
    Will I ever be able to carry a telephone in my pocket? We asked a few decades back.
    On and on and on…
    Will renewables ever replace oil? Are we still asking this shit?
    The answer is “absolutely YES” guys! Wake up!
    Take all subsidies out of oil and see if it is not already.

  37. Brian Huebner

    Not the right question. Can the human race survive without eliminating fossile fuels and nuclear? Obviously not.

  38. Sebastiano Schavoir

    We see electric cars, Teslas, all kinds of power generators exploiting natural energy. We have nuclear power and are researching fusion energy. Oil will one day be tomorrow’s coal. Its not idealogical to think so, it is a certainty. How can I be so sure? Easy: its a limited resource. The more its difficult to get the higher the price. For the momwnt its still fairly easy to get. Give me one example of technology that will have to keep using oil. These debates are mostly non-debates for me.

  39. Todor Dzhambazov

    Of course they can but is there enough will to do it? Many Arabic countries won’t be happy. Countries rich in coal too.

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