Solar and wind can meet world energy demand 100 times over

Huge falls in the cost of solar and wind power in the last few years have unlocked an energy reserve that can meet world demand 100 times over a new report has found.

The report from Carbon Tracker found that 60% of the world’s solar resource and 15% of its wind resource is already economically comparable to local fossil fuel generation. And with current growth rates this could push fossil fuels out of the electricity sector by the mid-2030s. By 2050 they could power the world, displacing fossil fuels entirely and producing cheap, clean energy to support new technologies such as electric vehicles and green hydrogen.

It also highlighted how building enough solar panels to meet global energy demand would take up just 0.3% of land, less than the area occupied by fossil fuels. The world’s largest oilfield, Ghawar in Saudi Arabia occupies 8,400 square kilometres and produces the equivalent of 0.9 PWh each year. Building solar panels over the same area would generate 1.2 PWh a year on average globally and 1.6 PWh in Saudi Arabia which is sunnier than average.

The economic potential of solar has been unleashed by a huge fall in costs, down by an average 18% every year since 2010. Wind is on a similar trajectory: over the last decade prices have fallen by an average 9% year while capacity has grown 17% a year.

The study finds that the opportunity is greatest in emerging markets that have the highest solar and wind potential relative to their domestic demand. Many are still building out their energy systems, and cheap renewables offer a route to bring power to more people, create new industries, jobs and wealth.

Kingsmill Bond, Carbon Tracker’s energy strategist and report lead author, said: “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. 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.”