Living off sun and wind , now , today.

Basing our current lifestyle on 100% renewable energy is not going to work, (see two episodes earlier [1])

What then if we adjust our lifestyle now to the amount of renewable energy cq electricity available today, and distribute it fairly, with some creativity? Then we are done installing and investing. Which will save a lot of work, energy, resources and time, and also gives us a small chance of keeping climate change within maximized budgets. After all, we in the Netherlands will have depleted our 1.5 degree CO2 budget within a year, so we can’t afford more CO2 emissions, in solar and wind energy production for example. Also since we have already installed more than many other countries in the world, in some countries large groups of people don’t even have electricity yet. So we should stop here now, more renewable energy implies more CO2, after all that is produced with fossils, think of steel from Tata for example. And so we can’t do that anymore.

That’s pretty intense, I know. However, to have an idea of what we are doing, the question arises: where do we actually stand now, if we were to do that, as a reference? A little exercise, on a beer mat as it were.

Solar: In terms of solar panels, we currently have about 1 kWp of installed capacity per person in the Netherlands. Say 3 to 4 panels per person and conservatively counting 1000 kWh per person per year. All in all, that’s a good start anyway. [2]

wind: Then there’s wind, of course. At the end of 2020 there were a total of 2600 wind turbines, including 2100 on land and 500 at sea. Together providing 15.3 billion kWh (36% at sea and 70% on land) , and in 2021 that has increased to 17.9 billion kWh .  In terms of power its around 500 Watts pp, and in production about 1000 kWh per person, equivalent to solar.

Together that’s 2000 kWh pp of electricity anyway. If we include all sources classified as renewable, biomass, hydropower etc , then it is 2500 kWh pp. [3]

However, before this ambition is agreed by parliament, we will have reached the end of 2023 (..), so what if we include 2023 as well ?

The Netherlands is expected to have about 4 gigawatt peak of solar panels installed in 2023. That’s another 220 watts of power per person. [4]  Plus wind of course, there should be at least 4.5 GW of offshore wind turbine capacity by the end of 2023. that’s an additional 2000 MW at sea, that’s pp: 111 W pp. [5]

In other words, together another 330 watts of additional power, totalling 1830 watts of power and an estimated 3000 kWh per capita, at the time the NL CO2 budget runs out. *

That’s what it would imply if we stop now investing an producing and stay within 1,5 degree budget. For everything, because we are going towards all electric of course. “Fuels” , like gas, coal, oil, lignite, peat, we can’t do that anymore. Burning is out. Except perhaps for some biomass, but that is related to biomass demand for materials and the need to restore and expand forests in relation to biodiversity. So not much will be available for that.

What can you do with that 3000 kWh pp, or what does that mean? Do we have a reference for this? Then we have to go back a while, to the early 1960’s.

In 1960 we used about 20 billion kWh a year of total electricity [6a]…. with 11 million inhabitants. That was 1800 kWh per person. Over all! The whole society could run on that…. (excluding heat, see below). People in households used less of course. Household electricity consumption in 1960 was 3.7 GJ pp. And that’s about 1000kWh… (per household!) (see the graph, which runs until 2014, after that CBS used other indicators) [6b].

As for electricity, we went through the 2000 kWh limit per household in the early 70s, and through the 3000 kWh limit per household in the early 90s. Now it is fairly stable around that 3000, but due to electrification it will go up again.

But 2500 kWh available per capita today of renewable electricity, say over 5000 per family/household, suddenly seems a not entirely unachievable target, even in an all electric society.

Of course, there are a few snags. We will have to live more with the seasons: use electricity when it is available, and much less in the less favourable periods. Something they are already doing on the island of Eigg in Scotland: They run entirely on local renewable electricity, and the 100 or so inhabitants receive a signal when the energy supply is too low, and all non-essential appliances should be switched off. (In the beginning this was still done with a ’traffic light’ at the little harbor, where everyone goes once a day to pick up the mail and goods from the ferry boat, and could see it was green or red, favorable or unfavorable).

And of course, that’s not enough to keep all the current industry going. But thats unsustainable anyway, besides the need is then and a lot less. Think again of the level in early sixties.

That is, the electric part. As can be seen in the graph, the 1960s were a big turning point, and thereafter gas consumption in particular rose sharply. For industry, see above, but also mainly due to vastly increased comfort in houses that switched to gas heating the whole house.

The heating demand before that was however only about half what it is today, (per person!). So halving heating need should not be a problem today anyway: its a matter of heating only 1 room, just like back then. If we then also optimally insulate and renovate that one room [7] , it hardly needs to be heated anymore, it can basically be kept comfortable with body heat, solar radiation, waste heat from appliances, and an extra sweater. (see the houses built in Austria, even without heating installation [8]) And we should realize that even if we stop CO2 emissions today, the warming will continue for some time, so winters will become less cold.

There is still a small problem with that renewable electricity now already available: we as a society only own the cables. Not of the production of that electricity: we do not own the windmills, nor the largest solar farms, nor the energy produced. Its mostly private and foreign owned. If those commercial producers decide to sell the electricity production to other countries…then of course we have nothing. Zero renewable electricity…. ‘Yes. But we still own the cables en we can close our cable networks to them, right?’ Yes, but if they start producing hydrogen at sea, and bring it around by ships from there, we can’t do anything about it.

But that aside. In theory, it could be done: stop investing, depleting, emitting, and live off the earnings from the current installed renewable capacity. And thus stay within the 1.5 degree budget.

Note: this was a thought experiment on a beer mat, just to put into perspective all the optimistic plans flying around our ears….



*by the way, Switzerland has already established by referendum that they are aiming for a 2000 Watt society, the maximum per person. (now it’s 6000 Watts) So it looks like we’re already close to that with our capacity. However that’s based on continuous available power, not on installed power. Nevertheless, the Swiss have already opted for drastic reductions here. [9][10]

(“The work performed by twenty workers, or three horses, working around the clock, amounts to 2000 watts. Anyone who burns one litre of petrol every six hours consumes 2000 watts.”)



(italic are in Dutch, for data)

[1] 100% renewable?

[2] (dutch)

[3] (dutch)

[4] (dutch)

[5] (dutch)

[6a] (dutch)

[6b] (dutch)

[7] (dutch) domijn woningen 1 ruimte verwarmd :


[8] Graf : houses without heating


Building Bioclimatic Design in cold climate office buildings , Ness, et all, IOP Conf. Series: Earth and Environmental Science 352 (2019) 012066


Do healthy buildings need technology, 2016 Hygentobler et all,



Author: ronald rovers