Pushing still harder to decarbonise the world’s energy supply by 2050 promises to strip as much as $12 trillion – or £ 10.34 trillion – out of costs to be borne by the globe’s consumers, new research claims.
The reckoning comes in work released this week by academics at Oxford University and Melbourne’s Monash University.
Claims that going green will be expensive are ‘just wrong’, the analysts argue, from evidence.
Achieving a net zero carbon energy system for the globe by mid-century is now possible as well as profitable, according to calculations from researchers at Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and Environment and the Post-Carbon Transition unit at the university’s Martin School.
Accelerating efforts immediately towards securing zero-carbon power for the planet is cheaper now, the investigators conclude, either than observing today’s pace in carbon-shedding, or than foot-dragging in response to politicians or other vested interests such as oil and gas companies.
Using a classical methodology based on costed scenarios, the paper’s findings include a ‘triple win’ outcome.
By rapidly transitioning to clean energy, it says, the planet can achieve lower system costs associated with energy than under fossil fuels, at the same time as more energy is pumped into the global economy, thus expanding its access by bigger populations.
The study’s ‘Fast Transition’ scenario shows a possible future – classed as realistic by the authors – for a fossil-free energy system by mid-century, providing 55% more energy services globally. What’s needed, says the research team, is aggressively ramping up adoption of solar and wind power, batteries, EVs and clean fuels such as green hydrogen, made with renewables.
Lead author Dr Rupert Way, a postdoctoral researcher at Oxford’s Smith School said, ‘Past models predicting high costs for transitioning to zero carbon energy have deterred companies from investing.
They’ve made governments nervous too about setting policies that will accelerate the energy transition and cut reliance on fossil fuels.
“But clean energy costs have fallen sharply over the last decade, much faster than those models expected.’
The paper quantifies how scaling up key green technologies will continue to drive their costs down.
“The faster we go, the more we will save”, said Dr Way. “Accelerating the transition to renewable energy is now the best bet not just for the planet, but for energy costs too.’
Informing the researchers’ model are thousands of scenarios related to the low carbon transition, produced by major energy models, plus data tracking 45 years of tumbling solar costs, 37 years of wind costs and 25 years for batteries.
Dr Way’s team found the real cost of solar PV in fact dropped twice as fast as the most ambitious projections, shattering earlier assumptions. Since as recently as 2000, previous models have badly overestimated even imminent costs of decarbonising key technologies in clean energy.
‘There is a pervasive misconception that switching to clean, green energy will be painful, costly and mean sacrifices for us all – but that’s just wrong,’ says Professor Doyne Farmer, head of investigators in the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School.
‘Renewable costs have been trending down for decades. They are already cheaper than fossil fuels in many situations, and our research shows that they will become cheaper than fossil fuels across almost all applications in the years to come. And if we accelerate the transition, they will become cheaper faster.
“Completely replacing fossil fuels with clean energy by 2050 will save us trillions.’
Meltdown in nuclear’s cost cutting
Key storage technologies, such as batteries and hydrogen electrolysis, are also on trend to continue dramatic recent falls in cost.
Nuclear, however, has consistently risen in cost for the last 50 years, making it highly unlikely to be cost competitive with plunging renewable and storage costs.
Professor Farmer added: ‘The world is faces crises pf inflation, of national security, and climate. All are caused by our dependence on high cost, insecure, polluting, fossil fuels with volatile prices”.
“This study shows that ambitious policies to dramatically accelerate the transition to a clean energy future as quickly as possible are not only urgently needed for climate reasons, but can save the world trillions in future energy costs, giving us a cleaner, cheaper, more energy secure future.’
The study was conducted before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which sparked a skyrocketing in costs of fossil energy, including gas.
But researchers argue the paper’s long horizons – including over a century’s worth of oil and gas prices – demonstrates the risks of continuing to rely on expensive, insecure, fossil fuels.