Energy economists Carbon Tracker believe fossil fuels will be ousted from world electricity production by the mid-2030s, displaced by tumbling costs of solar and wind.
The London-based think tank reckons that, for green energy, ‘The Sky’s the Limit’, as its latest report is titled.
Drawing on Bloomberg NEF data for levelised energy costs, analysts Kingsmill Bond and Harry Benham take a globe-spanning perspective on energy and electricity demand toward the year 2050.
As early as 2030, the pair calculate, “all” solar PV capacity and half that of wind will be cost-competitive against fossil fuels, even coal, in power generation across the world. Half a decade later, as renewables’ capital costs continue to plummet, renewables will have squeezed hydrocarbons out of electricity production.
Solar’s upfront unit costs have tumbled 18% each year on average worldwide since 2010, causing installed PV to grow 9% each year. For wind, capital costs per unit generated have dropped by 9% annually, spurring a 17% rise each year in capacity.
The outcome, Bond and Benham assert, is that already in 2021 60% of installed solar and 15% of installed wind is directly competitive with legacy hydrocarbons in making electricity. Subsidies have done their work, and in “early-adopting” markets are no longer needed.
“We are entering a new epoch, comparable to the industrial revolution”, Carbon Tracker claims. “Energy will tumble in price and become available to millions more, particularly in low-income countries.
“Geopolitics will be transformed as nations are freed from expensive imports of coal, oil and gas”.
Against world energy demand of 65 Petawatt hours in 2019, the pair maintain current solar technologies could already in theory harness 5,800 Petawatt hours per year. The globe’s current fleet of installed wind turbines adds another 900 PWh.
Objections to renewables no longer depend on engineering or economics, but are now overwhelmingly political, the pair argue. A conscious desire to speed up renewables’ average deployment to 15% yearly will lead to all the world’s electricity being green by 2035, and all global energy use – including heat and transport – following by 2050.
For Bond, the transition cannot come too soon. “Each year we are fuelling the climate crisis by burning 3 million years of ‘fossilised sunshine’ in coal, oil and gas, while we use just 0.01% of daily sunshine.”
New winners will emerge, with few losers. Africa shows the greatest potential for energy liberation; by mid-century, it could be generating as much as 39% of the world’s clean energy, Carbon Tracker calculates.
More on the report here.