Renewables to Become the Dominant Power Source by Mid-Century

Imagine a world powered by renewable energy, employing millions of people across the globe and creating a healthier, more vibrant society. This vision may not be that far-fetched, according to a new analysis by Finland’s Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT).

Finnish scientists predict that by 2050, renewables will have grown to the point of employing 80 percent of all direct jobs in the energy sector, more than doubling its 28 percent share of energy in 2015. By mid-century, they also expect the fossil fuel and nuclear industries to decrease from roughly 70 percent to a mere 3 percent.

Solar and Storage Will Lead The Way

Solar photovoltaics (PV) are expected to lead the green energy boom, creating some 22.2 million global jobs out of the 34 million+ jobs in the energy sector by 2050. According to LUT researchers, solar PV will account for about 1.62 million of the 2.7 million total energy jobs in North America – roughly 60 percent of the energy jobs in the U.S., Canada and Mexico – in 30 years’ time.

Following solar is energy storage, which the LUT analysis anticipates will create some 4.5 million jobs worldwide by the middle of this century.

But we won’t have to wait decades to see a change. In just 10 years, Finnish scientists speculate that renewables and energy storage will create approximately 17 percent of all new energy jobs. This global shift towards sustainable energy will work to create “stable economic growth,” say LUT researchers, while also contributing to political stability and social wellbeing.

Utility-Scale Solar Will Lead Solar Growth

A number of scientists, not just those in Finland, are confident that solar energy will be the dominant source of power across the globe by 2050. An analysis by the Norway-based quality assurance and risk management company DNV GL determined that declining costs of solar PV will enable this form of energy to grow 65-fold, from 1 percent of our global electric generation in 2016 to 40 percent in 2050.

How will we get there? Microgrids, C&I, some residential solar, but largely – utility-scale solar. Researchers predict that the cost of utility-scale PV will drop to around $0.42 – $0.58 per watt, and be responsible for anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of worldwide PV generation in 30 years’ time.

Energy Storage Costs to Decline Dramatically

As the cost of solar drops in half, we can expect more investments in grid expansion and integration technologies like storage, connectivity, and demand-response – all of which increase the value of solar assets. Hundreds of millions of dollars in capital is already flowing toward energy storage R&D, backed by firms like Tesla and Lockheed Martin.

Countless startups are focusing on upgrading lithium-ion battery technology, improving performance while making these batteries cheaper. BloombergNEF reports that these battery packs:

  • Averaged $1,160 per kilowatt hour (kWh) in 2010
  • Dropped to $176 per kWh in 2018
  • Could drop below $100 by 2024

Since utility-scale storage will be responsible for about half of the world’s solar generation by mid-century, what about storage on a larger scale? According to the EDF, the largest price drop in utility-scale lithium-ion storage systems took place between 2014 and 2015, plummeting 29 percent. With hardware costs continuing to fall, the price of utility-scale storage is expected to drop a record-breaking 36 percent by 2022.

For utility companies, these cost declines will make building renewable facilities with energy storage more cost-efficient than constructing expensive new natural gas power plants. And the green revolution will be unstoppable.

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