Harnessing the sun’s power, we’ve hit a game-changing milestone, setting solar energy on track to light up our world without needing more climate action. A study conducted by the University of Exeter and University College London, using a data-driven model of technology and economics, has revealed a compelling forecast: solar PV (photovoltaics) is poised to establish itself as the predominant power source prior to the year 2050. Remarkably, this transition is expected to transpire even in the absence of substantial support from more ambitious climate policies. Both the Paris Agreement and the Glasgow Pact rally us to keep Earth’s temperature rise below 2°C. Major players like the EU, UK, Japan, and Korea are gearing up for a net-zero 2050, with China eyeing 2060 and India 2070.
There was a time when green energy seemed costly, demanding hefty support or taxes. Yet, from 2010 to 2020, the cost to tap into solar dropped 15% each year, a blazing trail of innovation and growth. With this, our solar capacity has soared, growing 25% annually. If this blaze continues, solar and wind might be our main power sources in a decade or two. But not all energy forecasts see this shift, with some still betting on fossil fuels.
Now, our challenge is like coordinating a firefighting team: ensuring a steady power supply amidst the unpredictable nature of wind and solar. “The recent progress of renewables means that fossil fuel-dominated projections are no longer realistic,” said Dr Femke Nijsse, from Exeter’s Global Systems Institute. Batteries, our firebreaks, are key to keeping the energy flow steady. For solar and wind to truly lead, we need to tackle tech and financial hurdles. Seasons can be tricky for batteries, and handling power fluctuations might slow down cost cuts in solar tech. Funding gaps in different countries can be roadblocks for solar and wind projects. If our supply lines aren’t ready, rolling out new tech could stall. And in places where fossil fuels are fading, there might be pushback against solar’s rise.
Past energy forecasts often missed the mark on solar’s rapid growth. Solar started small, serving areas with few options, but has since spread like a controlled burn, fueled by policies and dropping costs. Its rapid spread is thanks to its straightforward design and the chance to keep improving, much like advances in tech gadgets. Solar tech keeps evolving, with new cells promising even better performance and affordability. Why did past models miss solar’s surge? Outdated info and missing growth patterns might be culprits.
By 2050, solar is set to be the main player in our energy landscape, even without extra policy boosts. While places like China are quickly turning to renewables, others like Africa and Russia are trailing. Solar’s cost, even with storage, is becoming unbeatably low. By 2050, solar might be behind 56% of our electricity. But this solar shift will need metals and minerals, boosting demand for essentials like lithium and copper. With mineral production focused in areas like China, we need to ensure a steady supply.
Switching to solar could shake up communities rooted in the fossil fuel world, changing many lives. Dr Nadia Ameli from UCL’s Institute for Sustainable Resources, said: “There is a growing belief that, with the dramatic decline in the global average cost of renewables, it will be much easier for the developing world to decarbonise. Our study reveals persistent hurdles, especially considering the challenges these nations face in accessing capital under equitable conditions.” Solar’s rise is clear, but there are still unknowns, like ensuring a stable power grid in a green-dominated system. Economic gaps, especially in less developed regions, might slow solar’s spread. Supply chain readiness and potential pushback in fossil-fuel regions are also on the radar. Yet, despite these hurdles, solar’s future shines bright, ready to redefine how we power our world.