Switching the whole world to renewable energy could pay for itself in just six years, study says

If the world wants to avoid some of the most serious ramifications of the climate crisis, countries will need to start shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy quickly.

The problem is that building all that new infrastructure is expensive – costing the world trillions of dollars to install solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and other renewable energy systems.

Yet, a new study finds that those costs might only be short-term.

Transitioning nearly the entire world to an efficient and renewable energy system would cost nearly $62 trillion, according to the analysis by researchers at Stanford University.

But all that new, fancy infrastructure would also save trillions in energy costs every year afterwards – meaning the whole transition could pay for itself in less than six years.

The research team looked at the costs of switching to renewables in 145 countries that, combined, emit 99.7 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels.

That included building new power plants with technologies like solar, wind and hydroelectric energy. They also included adding new electricity storage, like batteries and new technologies like electric vehicles for transportation and heat pumps for climate control in buildings.

They published their results in June in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

Building all that new stuff is what would cost $62 trillion. But then they looked at the potential savings.

Private energy costs alone would drop by 62.7 per cent – or about $11 trillion each year. In less than six years, those savings would outweigh all the initial building costs.

Even more savings could be factored in by incorporating all the societal costs from fossil fuels. When the researchers calculated all the money saved by avoiding things like air pollution from power plants and climate damage, they found that the world could recoup its entire investment in renewable infrastructure in less than one year.

In addition to the cost savings, the researchers estimated that all this new infrastructure would create more than 28 million jobs worldwide and use less than 1 per cent of the world’s landmass.

The study is the latest to point to the potential societal benefits of averting the climate crisis. And the consequences of remaining on a more “business as usual” path will include more than just monetary costs.

A warmer planet – created by pumping more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – will likely mean a lot more deadly droughts, storms, wildfires and hurricanes.

Earlier this year, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a leading authority on global climate science, warned that greenhouse gas emissions must start dropping by 2025 if the world wants to keep warming to around 1.5C and avoid some of the worst potential climate consequences.

Already, the planet has warmed about 1.1-1.2C above 19th-century temperatures.