In order to reach net zero, we really need to start looking into solar power, as scientists say that a zero-carbon-emissions world will rely on low-cost solar electricity. We can try taking carbon out of the atmosphere, but this is expensive. A much cheaper option is to shut down coal-fired power plants and expand our renewable energy industry.
The cost of coal to health and wealth
In Germany, coal-fired power plant pollution causes nearly 5000 premature deaths a year. In Asia, it's nearly one million.
Producing coal-fired power is four times more expensive than making electricity from PV or wind power plants.
In 2019 a research group at LUT University in Finland published a study showing how we can quickly reach net-zero carbon emissions safely and cost-effectively.
In the model proposed by this study, solar photovoltaics (PV) — solar panels — would supply 69% of power. The rest would come from wind, biomass and waste, hydroelectricity, and geothermal. Nuclear power is too expensive, while the cost of PV technology is falling year on year. Solar power plants are also easier, quicker, and less risky to install.
Binning Fossil Fuels
The LUT study asks two questions:
1) When do we need to reach net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases to meet the international goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 F)?
2) How many solar panel manufacturing plants do we need to build, and by when?
Well, there’s a simple answer to question 1:
In 2019, the world emitted 40 gigatonnes of CO2. If we keep going at this level, we’ll overshoot our carbon emissions by the end of 2025, leading to extremely dangerous changes in our climate. So we need to reach net zero as soon as possible – the current 2050 target is 25 years too late!
The solution: Build 100 giant PV factories
The LUT study proposes a carbon-neutral world, powered by 90% electricity. 69% of this will come from solar PV. So we come back to question 2: How many solar panel manufacturing plants do we need to build and by when?
At our current PV factory-building rate, we're nowhere near close enough to getting the job done in time. To rise to the climate challenge, we need 15 times more factories built by 2024 than are currently in the pipeline. We need to build another 100 the same size as the 60 gigawatt PV module factory in China’s Anhui province (the largest PV module factory in the world). This was something Elon Musk realized back in 2016.
So, how many solar panels do we need to save the climate?
A heck of a lot. As many solar panels as 100 giant PV factories can make. We will need 100 giant solar panel factories by 2025 to defossilize our energy supply by 2035. This would mean we’d no longer need to use fossil fuels at all, meaning no more pollution and no more dangerous climate change.