- University of Exeter and UCL believe solar energy is set to become the globally dominant source of energy generation before 2050
- Using simulation models, they see solar reaching this stature in all probability, even with the current policies
- Disruption to its growth can be caused by 4 main barriers, including political resistance from regions that lose jobs
The world may have already crossed an ‘irreversible tipping point’ for solar to make this renewable energy generation technology the dominant source of electricity globally, even before 2050. New research led by the University of Exeter and University College London (UCL) claims that solar energy is headed in this direction even without any more ambitious climate policies.
The researchers use a data-driven energy-technology-economy simulation model called E3ME-FTT to forecast the deployment of energy technologies up to 2060 based on current policies in motion.
Out of 72% of simulations done for robustness testing, solar made up over 50% of power generation in 2050. “This suggests that solar dominance is not only possible but also likely,” reads the research. At the same time, they warn that fossil-fuel dominated projection baselines are ‘not realistic’ anymore.
Even in terms of the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), solar PV is expected to score over others by 2030, taking over from wind energy that had the lowest LCOE in a majority of the 70 regions the researchers covered in the simulation in 2020.
A disruption from 4 main barriers could play spoilsport though. As UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources’ Dr. Nadia Ameli points out, “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 decarbonize. Our study reveals persistent hurdles, especially considering the challenges these nations face in accessing capital under equitable conditions.”
The researchers identify these barriers that need to be overcome as the following:
- Creation of stable power grids: Design grids to accommodate this variable energy source by way of building more wind and transmission cables connecting different regions, storage and policy to manage demand.
- Financing solar in developing economies: Diversify low-carbon finance from being concentrated in high- and middle-income nations to lower-income countries, especially in Africa.
- Capacity of supply chains: Ensure enough supply of metals and minerals for a solar-dominated future as renewable technologies are projected to make up 40% of total mineral demand for copper and rare earth elements, between 60 and 70% for nickel and cobalt, and almost 90% for lithium by 2040.
- Political resistance from regions that lose jobs: A rapid solar transition may put at risk up to 13 million jobs in fossil fuel and its dependent industries. It requires regional economic and industrial development policies to resolve inequity and mitigate risks.
The complete study titled The momentum of the solar energy transition has been published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.