A fully renewable Iran

 By Benjamin Plackett

Iran’s recent history is a story of black gold. The question of how to best manage the country’s vast wealth of oil deposits has attracted meddling foreign powers, toppled a Shah and quite literally fueled the economy. But Iran need not be so dependent on the commodity. In fact, it could realistically develop its domestic energy market to go fully renewable inside 13 years…

This is the finding of a new feasibility analysis study carried out by Christian Breyer, a Professor of Solar Economy at Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland. “If we want to survive on our planet, we have to switch to zero net emissions, this is not possible on the basis of fossil fuels,” says Breyer. His research analyzes the potential of countries and regions to dramatically increase their renewable energy output—most recently, Iran.”We start with the energy system as of today and progress in 5-year steps until 2050,” he explains. “This enables an energy transition scenario from today into the future.”

Lappeenranta University of Technology (Remi Lefevre, Wikimedia Commons)

Breyer took a comprehensive look at technological development data and economical statistics along with important variables like the weather. He then crunched the numbers to play an educated game of “what if” to come up with scenarios in which Iran could achieve a fully renewable future. Breyer’s computer model considered the energy costs of various types of renewable sources, probable advances in efficiency technologies and energy infrastructure. “Local renewable energy resources are excellent in Iran and the education system is well suited to get the change organized. Financing is not an issue for a country such as Iran,” he says.

The results suggest such a change is financially and technologically doable by 2030, and while there is already a sufficient amount of hydropower production in Iran, it would require investments in solar and wind infrastructure to boost output. Wind energy could be harvested across much of Iran, and solar energy is feasible almost everywhere in the country. The findings also suggest that Iran would be better served, economically at least, by abandoning its nuclear program in pursuit of renewables. A fully renewable electricity system is between 50 and 60 percent cheaper than other emission-free energy options for the region, according to the study. To be specific, new nuclear power would cost around 110 euros per megawatt hour, whereas the cost of a fully renewable national grid is around 60 to 40 euros per megawatt hour.

But the financial incentive doesn’t end there, says Breyer. He points to European oil producers that are already making great renewable investments. “Norway might be a good role model, using as much renewable energy as possible and selling its fossil fuels to the energy junkies,” he explains. In other words, Iran could both save money in its domestic market and export more of its oil stocks abroad to countries with less developed energy infrastructures.

Many other oil-rich countries in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, have also expressed a desire to decrease their domestic oil use to then increase their export opportunities once oil prices have fully recovered from the crash. But such a drive towards renewables at the expense of carbon-dioxide-producing fossil fuels has a significance that stretches far beyond the oilfields of the Middle East. “Restructuring our energy basis is the largest business opportunity of our time. Change offers opportunities for the ones who are prepared and willing to drive the it,” says Breyer. It’s a chance for longstanding international energy companies and innovative startups alike and an opportunity for them to help Iran and Saudi Arabia to realize its renewable potential.

Moshir Bridge on Dalaki river (Alireza Javaheri, Wikimedia Commons)

It’s also a opportunity for academics like Breyer to study a significant shift in how countries satisfy the ever-growing demands for energy. “The required restructuring of the failed fossil energy system needs to be understood in its main pathways as much as possible to avoid a waste in time and resources,” says Breyer. “Researchers have to screen the options and should recommend the most promising,” he adds. Just how likely it is that Iran’s powers-that-be will heed Breyer’s advice remains to be seen. “Iranians can decide whether the development of their country will be comparable to Norway or Venezuela—both countries have excellent resources to live in wealth and very high standards of living, but Norway has achieved it and Venezuela failed,” he says.

The problem with Venezuela compared to Norway, says Breyer, is twofold. Firstly, a lack of political will, but secondly it’s about having the right educational infrastructure in place to make sure people accept and embrace the change. Breyer remains optimistic that Iran could make the right decisions to push it closer to Norway than Venezuela. “The strong and well developed education system in Iran may be the most valuable asset to master the challenge.”

SEE MORE: Iran gauges appetite for renewables by Criselda Diala-McBride

about the author
Benjamin Plackett
I’m a journalist based in London. I report on all things science, tech, and health for a number of different publications. My work has been published by The Daily Dot, Inside Science and CNN among others. I earned my M.A. in Journalism at New York University and my B.Sci in Biology from Imperial College, London.