Most of the world could switch entirely to renewable energy by 2050, creating millions of jobs and saving millions of lives that would otherwise by lost to air pollution. It is true that 2050 is a whole generation away, but thinking about switching to clean energy is the first step towards change; a change that is needed for sustainable growth and protection of the environment.
The alternatives already deployed on a large scale are solar and wind. With the cost of solar and wind set to fall even further, the real question is what additional infrastructure is needed to support it. The price of lithium-ion battery, which is already down by nearly 80 percent per megawatt-hour since 2010, will continue to drop as electric vehicle manufacturing builds up through the 2020s. The reduction in the cost of batteries could be the game-changer; arrival of battery storage will mean that electricity demand will be met even when the sun is not shining and wind is not blowing.
Analysts at Aurora Energy Research looked at how the wholesale power market would cope if the UK manages to meet its target of slashing 80 percent of carbon emissions by 2050. It was observed that the price of power would drop to zero between April and October due to low demand and surplus of electricity from solar panels and wind farms. However, for the months November to February, due to the higher demand and lower solar output in winter, gas power plants would still be needed.
At this point, wind and solar are already extremely cost-effective. In many parts of the U.S., it costs less to build a solar or wind plant than to continue running a coal or natural gas plant.
According to Bloomberg NEF’s New Energy Outlook, by 2050, the renewable generation mix is more than 96 percent wind and solar. In 60 years, wind and solar will have gone from a combined 3 percent of renewable generation to almost all of it.
Our complex societies play an increasingly central part in supporting this complexity. An “energy transition” isn’t enough, what is required is a total societal transformation. This can only be in synchrony with other critical systems like transport or manufacturing.