Scientia Marina, Vol 80, No S1 (2016)

Energy for a sustainable post-carbon society

Antonio García-Olivares
Instituto de Ciencias del Mar, CSIC , Spain


A feasible way to avoid the risk of energy decline and to combat climate change is to build a worldwide, 100% renewable energy mix. Renewable energy can be scaled up to the range of 12 electric terawatts (TWe) if 10% of continental shelves are exploited with floating turbines to depths as low as 225 m, 5% of continents with ground turbines, and 5% of the main deserts with concentrating solar power (CSP) farms. However, a globally electrified economy cannot grow much above 12 TWe without approaching the limit of terrestrial copper reserves. New photovoltaic silicon panels do not use silver metallization pastes and could contribute up to 1 TW of decentralized residential power. Hydroelectricity has a potential of 1 TW but a fraction of this would have to be sacrificed for energy storage purposes. Hydro, CSP, wave energy and grid integration at continental scales may be sufficient to fit supply to demand, avoiding intermittency. The renewable energy mix would have an energy return on energy invested about 18, which is 25% lower than the estimated present one. That should be sufficient to sustain an industrialized economy provided that the substitution of electricity for fossil fuels is done intelligently.


100% renewable energy; renewable potential; EROEI; material limits; post-carbon economy

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