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Renewable energy sources have the potential to supply the entire world’s energy demand 100-times over, according to a new report. As the cost of wind and solar power continues to fall, Carbon Tracker analysts say that we are now “entering a new epoch” where fossil fuels can be replaced entirely, making way for a net-zero economy.
Research undertaken by London-based nonprofit think tank Carbon Tracker has revealed that renewables could unlock an infinite energy reserve that has the potential to meet global demand by more than 100-fold. Many sources of renewable energy are already economic compared with fossil fuels, but as costs of renewables such as solar and wind continue to fall dramatically, we could be looking at dirty energy pushed out from the electricity sector by the mid-2030s.
At current growth rates, renewable energy could power the entire world to displace fossil fuels entirely by 2050, say the researchers.
“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,” said lead author Kingsmill Bond, energy strategist at Carbon Tracker.
“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.”
The analysis tracked current global energy consumption, which stands at 65 Petawatt hours (PWh). With current technological advancements, the report says that solar power alone can already supply more than 5,800 PWh annually – comparable to the energy generated by burning all known fossil fuel reserves.
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.Kingsmill Bond, Energy Strategist, Carbon Tracker
Factoring in onshore and offshore wind power as well, renewables could capture an additional 900 PWh every year.
As it stands right now, 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 the end of this decade, this figure is likely to be pushed up to 100% of solar and over half of wind energy.
Carbon Tracker’s predictions match up with data released by Our World in Data and Oxford University in December 2020, which found that renewables are getting cheaper by the day. Solar energy, for instance, has plummeted from US$359 per megawatt hour to just US$40 between 2009 and 2019 alone – making it by far the cheapest of all clean energy sources.
But despite the multitude of economic, social, health and environmental benefits of renewables, current trends show that the world is on track to continue spewing out unprecedented amounts of greenhouse gas emissions from the use of fossil fuels.
The latest annual IEA report estimates that global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions will surge by 1.5 billion tonnes in 2021 – the second largest increase in history and the biggest annual rise since 2010 – even as energy decarbonisation spending topped a record US$501 billion for the year, according to BloombergNEF data.
The world does not need to exploit its entire renewable resource — just 1% is enough to replace all fossil fuel usage.Harry Benham, Chairman, Ember-Climate
Harry Benham, co-author of the latest Carbon Tracker report and chairman of think tank Ember-Climate, says that their findings underscore the huge opportunities that lie in renewable energy sources, which do not require plundering a finite planetary resource at enormous risk to the environment and climate.
“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.”
To meet global energy demand with solar panels, we would just need to use up 0.3% of land – less than the area currently occupied by fossil fuel operations.
In terms of the regional spread of energy supply, the report notes that emerging markets will have the largest solar and wind potential. The African continent, for instance, has an astonishing 39% of global potential and could become one of the largest renewable “superpowers” with new local industries, jobs and wealth.
Chile, Australia and Morocco are also countries that are poised to become renewable superpowers, given their currently well-developed infrastructure and governance. 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.
Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.