According to a report, the potential of renewable energy, specifically solar and wind energy, is far higher than that of fossil fuels and can meet global energy demand 100-times over. The report says that fossil fuels can be replaced entirely by mid-century, making it easier to achieve net-zero emissions.
What is Happening?
- The report, written by think tank Carbon Tracker, says that with current technology and in a subset of available locations, at least 6 700 PWh (Petawatt hours) per year could be generated from solar and wind energy, which is more than 100 times the global energy demand. Current global energy consumption is 65 PWh.
- Analysis by BloombergNEF in 2020 found that solar and onshore wind power are now the cheapest new sources of electricity in at least two-thirds of the world’s population, further threatening fossil-fuel stalwarts.
- The levelized cost of electricity for onshore wind projects has fallen 9% to USD$44 a megawatt-hour since the second half of last year. Solar declined 4% to $50 a megawatt-hour.
- The researchers say that at the current 15-20% growth rates of solar and wind, fossil fuels will be pushed out of the electricity sector by the mid-2030s and out of total energy supply by 2050.
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Kingsmill Bond, Carbon Tracker’s energy strategist and report lead author, says, “We are entering a new epoch, comparable to the industrial revolution. 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. Clean renewables will fight catastrophic climate change and free the planet from deadly pollution.”
- Currently, over 60% and 15% of the world’s solar and wind resources respectively are already at price parity or cheaper than fossil fuel generation. By 2030, this will likely be pushed to 100%.
- Despite the economic value of renewable energy, a report by the International Energy Agency, CO2 emissions are expected to rise nearly 5% in 2021, to 33 billion tons, reversing much of last year’s decline in emissions caused by COVID-19-related shutdowns. This year’s rise will be the largest since the 2010 recovery from the global financial crisis.
- The land required for solar panels alone to provide all global energy is 450 000 sq km, 0.3% of the global land area of 149 million sq km – less than the current land footprint of fossil fuel infrastructure.
Harry Benham, co-author of the Carbon Tracker report and chairman of think tank Ember-Climate, says, “The world does not need to exploit its entire renewable resource-just 1% is enough to replace all fossil fuel usage. Each year we are fuelling the climate crisis by burning three million years of fossilised sunshine in coal, oil and gas while we use just 0.01% of daily sunshine.”
- Poor countries are the greatest beneficiaries. They have the largest ratio of solar and wind potential to energy demand and stand to unlock huge domestic benefits. Africa has 39% of global potential and could become a renewable “superpower.” Other countries with massive potential include Chile, Australia and Morocco, given their well-developed infrastructure and governance. Meanwhile, less prepared countries like Japan, South Korea and much of Europe will have to “face tough political choices about how to tap their renewable resources most effectively,” says the report.