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Embracing imperfections: why the Green Transition won't be perfect

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By Bashir Dan

· 6 min read

The urgency of the energy transition

The world is at a critical juncture when it comes to addressing the urgent challenge of climate change. The recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has sounded a clarion call for immediate and ambitious action to mitigate the impacts of global warming. As countries and sectors worldwide strive to transition to green and renewable sources of energy, it's important to recognize that the green transition won't be perfect and we'll need to embrace other energy mixes to achieve our climate goals. 

"We started up in an era of energy for peace, we’ve worked through an era of energy for prosperity, and now we’re in this era of energy for people and planet,"

says Angela Wilkinson, the World Energy Council's Secretary-General. Her words capture the evolving focus of our energy systems, from meeting basic human needs to driving economic growth and now prioritizing environmental sustainability. 

Evaluating renewables

Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power have gained momentum in recent years as viable alternatives to fossil fuels. They offer numerous benefits, including reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved air quality, and increased energy security. However, transitioning to renewables on a global scale is not without its challenges. Renewable energy infrastructure requires a significant upfront investment, and its intermittent nature can pose challenges for grid stability and energy storage. Additionally, renewable technologies may not be equally accessible or affordable to all communities and countries, especially in developing regions. 

Alternative energy sources

This is where the concept of "other clean energy friends" comes into play. To achieve the scale needed for a successful green transition, we'll need to embrace a mix of clean energy solutions, including not only renewables but also other low-carbon options. These could include nuclear energy, natural gas with carbon capture and storage (CCS), and even transitional technologies such as hydrogen and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). 

Nuclear energy

Nuclear energy, despite its controversies, has the potential to provide large-scale, reliable, and low-carbon electricity. It doesn't emit greenhouse gases during operation and advancements in nuclear technology are focused on improving safety and reducing waste. However, nuclear energy also faces challenges such as high upfront costs, concerns about safety and security, and the issue of nuclear waste disposal. 

Natural gas

Natural gas with CCS is another option that can help bridge the gap toward a greener future. It involves capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from natural gas power plants and storing them underground, thus reducing the overall carbon footprint. This technology can be applied to existing natural gas infrastructure, making it a potentially cost-effective and efficient solution. However, CCS technology is still in its early stages of deployment and requires further research and development. 

Transitional technologies

Transitional technologies such as hydrogen and BECCS can also play a role in the green transition. Hydrogen can be used as a fuel or energy carrier, and it has the potential to replace fossil fuels in certain applications. BECCS involves capturing carbon emissions from biomass power plants and storing them underground, making it a carbon-negative option. However, both hydrogen and BECCS face challenges related to production, storage, and transportation, as well as sustainability concerns related to biomass sourcing. 

While renewable energy sources should be the cornerstone of our green transition, we need to acknowledge that they may not be a perfect solution for all regions and situations. Embracing a mix of clean energy solutions can help address the limitations and challenges of renewables, and accelerate the transition to a more sustainable energy system. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres rightly stated, "We can't let perfection be the enemy of the good in this." We need to be pragmatic and realistic in our approach to combating climate change. 

Making the transition happen

To make this transition a reality, governments, policymakers, businesses, and communities need to work together to create an enabling environment for diverse clean energy solutions. This includes investing in research and development to improve the performance and efficiency of alternative energy sources, implementing supportive policies and regulations, and ensuring equitable access to clean energy technologies for all communities. 

Furthermore, collaboration and innovation are key. We need to foster partnerships between different sectors and countries to share knowledge, resources, and best practices. Innovation in clean energy technologies and business models can also help overcome the challenges associated with scaling up diverse energy solutions. For example, advancements in energy storage technologies can address the intermittency of renewable energy sources, while innovations in carbon capture and utilization can enhance the viability of natural gas with CCS and BECCS. 

It's important to note that embracing a mix of clean energy solutions does not mean compromising on environmental sustainability or neglecting the urgency of climate action. It means recognizing that the transition to a sustainable energy system requires a pragmatic and inclusive approach. We must prioritize the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the protection of our natural resources, and the improvement of environmental and social outcomes. 

The transition to a green economy also presents an opportunity for economic growth and job creation. Investing in clean energy technologies can stimulate innovation, create new industries, and generate employment opportunities in the renewable energy sector and other clean energy solutions. This can contribute to inclusive and sustainable economic development, particularly in regions that are heavily reliant on fossil fuels. 

Concluding thoughts

In conclusion, the green transition won't be perfect, but we cannot afford to let perfection be the enemy of progress. While renewables are crucial, they may not be a one-size-fits-all solution. Embracing a mix of clean energy solutions, including nuclear energy, natural gas with CCS, hydrogen, and BECCS, can help us accelerate the shift towards a more sustainable energy system. Collaboration, innovation, and supportive policies are essential to overcoming the challenges and unlocking the benefits of diverse clean energy solutions. By working together, we can build a more sustainable future for people and the planet. 

So, let's seize the opportunity to create a cleaner, greener, and more sustainable world. The time for action is now. Let's embrace imperfection and work towards a future where clean energy, in all its forms, plays a vital role in mitigating climate change and securing a better future for generations to come. Together, we can make a difference and pave the way for a more sustainable and prosperous world. Are you ready to join the journey toward a greener future? Let's take action today!

Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Bashir Dan is the CEO of Stack Carbon, a carbon asset developer and management company.

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