Global consulting firm Wood Mackenzie has released a new report with the snappy title “Thinking global energy transitions: The what, if, how and when.” It claims 2035 will be the year when the world’s transition to renewable energy reaches critical mass. That year will be the “point of singularity,” the time when the world moves away from oil and gas to enter the age of renewables.
Identifying The Tipping Point
How will we know the tipping point has arrived? Wood Mackenzie’s analysts say the global energy transition will be complete when the new technologies achieve a 20% market share or account for 50% of new development or sales activity, according to PV Magazine.
As the IPCC 6 climate assessment report made abundantly clear, if the world has any hope of avoiding an existential crisis from warming temperatures, people have to stop depending on fossil fuels to power their world. Electrification of everything is critical. In an interview with PV Magazine, Christian Breyer, professor of solar economy at Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland, puts the need for urgency in stark terms.
“We already have no other appropriate options than this 100% renewables pathway. This is not science fiction but a real world scenario that must be taken into serious consideration, unless we don’t want to commit a collective suicide. But this is not only a matter of survival, it is also the cheapest way to shape our energy future, as solar and renewables have the potential to reduce the LCOE of global power supply from €70/MWh in 2015 to between 50 and €55/MWh by 2050.
“The easiest part of this trajectory will be the switch to renewables of the power sector, while the hard job will have to be done for the transport, industry and chemical sectors. In the transport sector, marine and aviation will also have to go through electrification, as economically they only work with low-cost electricity, and this will come mainly from renewables in the future, particularly from solar.”
Professor Breyer concludes his interview with this thought. “A world energy system based exclusively on renewable energies and an almost fully electrified world are our only chances to avoid further disasters. This is absolutely doable, and at lower costs than today.” Breyer believes the cost of the transition — while high — will be negligible compared to the cost of continuing to destroy the Earth’s environment with fossil fuel emissions.
Next 15 Years Are Critical
“The next 15 years of the transition will be critical to study, prepare and plan,” says Prajit Ghosh, Wood Mackenzie’s head of global strategy, power & renewables. “To prosper in the new energy reality, companies and investors will need to understand the future opportunities across the rapidly changing energy landscape, while remaining in touch with the evolving oil, power and metals markets.”
He and his team of researchers expect to see the adoption rates for both renewables and electrified transport increasing rapidly after 2035 and “becoming the default choice across many energy systems around the world.” They predict that half of all new power plants built after that date will rely on solar, wind, or a combination of the two. Energy storage is expected to surge as well. EVs will account for half of all travel. “The convergence of other technologies embedded within grid-edge applications – autonomous and shared driving, for instance – facilitate this rapid uptick,” they say.
Thomas Raffeiner, founder and CEO of The Mobility House, told PV Magazine earlier this year that bidirectional inverters are already making vehicle-to-grid and vehicle-to-vehicle EV charging possible. He believes that “very soon … it is only going to be wealthy people who drive car with combustion engines. Most people simply won’t be able to afford a combustion engine anymore.”
What’s The Hold Up?
The technology for a carbon free world is there. People are clamoring for more renewable energy. So what’s the hold up? One important factor is finding the political will to make the changes happen. As Professor Beyers says, “Hope dies last. We see ongoing negative impacts but do not react accordingly on a political level. That’s a shame. Take Germany, a former leader of the energy transition. 80% of citizens would like to have a faster and better managed energy transition but the political class fails in delivering. This is an unacceptable misuse of political power, and also explains some frustration of citizens documented in elections.
“We need a much better performance of the political class. The citizens are willing to invest and support the way ahead, even major parts of industry are now committed, as well as the major churches, but the political class acts in a way which has more to do with a sabotage of the entire project – and that has to be changed ASAP.”
Good luck with that in the United States, where The Donald has once again reached down into his grab bag filled with despicable people to nominate Bernard McNamee — a vocal supporter of a coal and nuke bailout who has a history of outspoken support for fossil fuels — to a vacant position with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
America’s putative president has said again and again that government should not be picking winners and losers in the market place, then he turns around and gives the lie to his own words by propping up those very same losers, proving once again that not one word coming out of his mouth can be trusted.
Peter Lynch left a comment to a PV Magazine story that sums the situation up succinctly. “The future is rapidly approaching and for the first time in history, mankind has a clear and unequivocal choice — move forward with renewables at a World War II speed or doom mankind to a slow, painful and totally avoidable death. Bottom line? Live or Die — our choice.”
Let’s Reframe The Debate
So much noise online and in the news makes it hard for many people to hear the message. But John, a regular CleanTechnica reader, shared his insights recently on how to get through to those for whom climate change denial is an article of faith. Ask them, “What if there is no climate change and we make the air, water, and earth cleaner for no reason?” Or, “If we convert over to electric vehicles, what would you do with the money you aren’t sending to the oil companies?”
Two excellent questions that avoid all the sturm und drang surrounding the politics of global warming and climate change. They frame the debate in terms of individual self interest rather than abstract concepts that are hard for many people to grasp. Try using them in your next conversation and see what happens.