Renewables could oust fossil fuels to power the world by 2050

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Employees clean up solar panels which will be exported to Sudan at a factory on October 16, 2020 in Ji an, Jiangxi Province of China.

Deng Heping | Visual China Group | Getty Images

LONDON — Solar and wind energy could replace fossil fuels entirely to become the world’s power source by 2050, a new report has claimed.

Published Friday, the report from thinktank Carbon Tracker also predicted that if wind and solar power continued on their current growth trajectory, they would push fossil fuels out of the electricity sector by the mid-2030s.

Current technology gave the world the power to capture 6,700 Petawatt hours (PWh) of power from solar and wind energy, researchers claimed – more than 100 times the amount of energy consumed globally in 2019.

Despite the potential for vast amounts of energy to be harvested, just 0.7 PWh of solar power and 1.4 PWh of wind energy was generated in 2019, according to the report.

However, its authors were confident that continued falling costs were likely to drive exponential growth in the generation of solar and wind power. An annual growth rate of 15% would see solar and wind generating all of the world’s electricity by the mid-2030s and providing all energy worldwide by 2050.

The report noted that the cost of solar power had declined by an average of 18% per year since 2010, while wind power prices had fallen by an average of 9% every year in the same period.

Solar power had grown at an average annual rate of 39% over the last decade, almost doubling in capacity every two years, according to the report. Meanwhile, wind energy had grown in capacity by 17% a year, with advances like better panels and higher turbines helping to reduce costs.

Steam and exhaust rise from the RWE Weisweiler coal-fired power station on February 11, 2021 near Inden, Germany.

Lukas Schulze | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Nonetheless, skepticism persists over the likelihood of a so-called energy transition happening anytime soon. Some climate scientists believe it is already “virtually impossible” to limit the planet’s temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — a fundamental target outlined in the Paris Agreement.

Carroll Muffett, chief executive at the non-profit Center for International Environmental Law, told CNBC earlier this month that “embedded power structures and continued support of dying industry” was thwarting progress amid the transition to renewable energy sources.

And while many global corporations are pledging to assist with efforts to slow climate change, others are doubling down on their funding of fossil fuels.

Of the world’s 60 largest banks, 33 increased their funding to the fossil fuel sector between 2016 and 2020, according to a CNBC analysis of the Banking on Climate Chaos 2021 report.

‘Superabundant’ Africa

Carbon Tracker’s researchers identified four key groups of countries based on their potential to harness power from wind and solar to meet domestic demand.

Low-income countries with low energy use in sub-Saharan Africa were named “superabundant,” meaning they had the potential to generate at least 1,000 times more energy than their domestic demand.

Africa in particular had a lot of potential when it came to implementing renewable energy infrastructure, the report claimed, with researchers saying the region could become a “renewables superpower.”

Those with the potential to harness at least 100 times more energy than was in demand were named “abundant” countries. Australia, Chile and Morocco, which had well-developed infrastructure and governance, were categorized as “abundant.”

China, India and the U.S., which had the potential to produce enough to satisfy their domestic demand, were “replete” countries, while Japan, South Korea and much of Europe were “stretched” when it came to tapping their renewable resources effectively.

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