- IRENA believes there is still time for the world to move to limit global warming to 1.5°C by 2050, but it would depend on the speed of energy transition and political will
- Solar PV and wind energy are expected to account for 63% of 90% electricity that IRENA believes will come from renewables
- Green hydrogen is set to assume a significant role in decarbonizing various other industries, and it alone would need 21,000 TWh electricity
- As investor interest increases in energy transition, it is governments that need to provide a supportive and encouraging regulatory environment
If the world wants to limit global warming to 1.5°C by 2050, it needs to accelerate the energy transition reaching a net zero status for the energy system. And enabling this transition will be ‘proven technologies’ as renewable energy, green hydrogen and modern bioenergy.
To this overarching aim, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in its latest offering World Energy Transitions Outlook envisions solar PV capacity to reach a more than 14,000 GW cumulatively by 2050 in 1.5°C scenario, followed by over 8,100 GW of onshore and offshore wind by 2050. Other renewable technologies that account for remaining renewable energy expansion by the target year will be hydropower, biomass, geothermal, concentrated solar power (CSP) and ocean technologies.
In order to reach the desired level, IRENA believes that total installed renewable power needs to expand 10-fold—from over 2,500 GW today to more than 27,700 GW in 2050, requiring an annual addition of 840 GW, up from around 200 GW added in recent years.
The 14,000 GW forecast for solar PV capacity by 2050 is way ahead of what IRENA analysts expected in their 2019 Future of Solar Photovoltaic report, which guided for 8,519 GW (see IRENA: Threefold Rise In Annual PV Deployment By 2050). To achieve this level of 14,000 GW IRENA pegs $237 billion annually in average investments in the technology, comprising both utility scale and rooftop PV. Total energy transition investment needs to increase by 30% over planned investment to a total of $131 trillion between now and 2050, translating into $4.4 trillion on average every year.
Of the 90% of all electricity that IRENA expects renewables to provide in its 1.5°C scenario in 2050, solar PV and wind power alone account for 63%. “This rise is being accelerated by declining costs: three-quarters of onshore wind and 40% of utility-scale solar PV commissioned in 2019 will produce during their lifetime electricity cheaper than any fossil-fuel alternatives, while three-quarters to four-fifths of the onshore wind and utility-scale solar PV commissioned in 2020 from auction or tenders had prices lower than the cheapest new fossil fuel–fired option,” reads the report.
The world will need close to 21,000 TWh of 30% of electricity for green hydrogen production and hydrogen and its derivatives as e-ammonia and e-methanol. The analysts expect close to 5,000 GW of hydrogen electrolyzer capacity by 2050, up from 0.3 GW today.
As renewables grow, there will be a decline in fossil fuel use by more than 75% over the same time. Natural gas will become the largest remaining fossil fuel by 2050, after peaking around 2025.
While investor interest is increasing in energy transition efforts, the report stresses on national social and economic policies to play a fundamental role in restricting global warming to 1.5°C.
“The window of opportunity to achieve the 1.5°C Paris Agreement goal is closing fast. The recent trends show that the gap between where we are and where we should be is not decreasing but widening. We are heading in the wrong direction,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera, but then also offers some hope.
“Major economies accounting for over half of global CO2 emissions are turning carbon neutral. Global capital is moving too. We see financial markets and investors shifting capital into sustainable assets. Covid-19 has highlighted the cost of tying economies to fossil fuels and confirmed the resilience of renewable energy. As governments pump huge sums in bailouts and recovery, investment must support energy transition,” added La Camera.
A preview of the report is available for free access on IRENA’s website.