The results of a new scientific study revealed that the world may have crossed a “tipping point” towards making solar energy the main source of energy by 2050.
But the research, conducted by a team from the University of Exeter and University College London (UCL), also indicates that there are still significant “barriers” that may hinder reaching this result. These barriers include the need for stable power grids, adequate financing for solar energy in developing countries, supply capacity, and resistance from those whose jobs depend on traditional energy industries.
Stepping towards the “turning point”
The cost of electricity generated by solar power plants has witnessed a noticeable decline over the past decade, recording a decline of 89% in the period from 2010 to 2022, according to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency. The battery industry, which is essential for balancing solar energy supplies throughout the day and night, has also seen a similar price revolution, by roughly the same amount between 2008 and 2022.
As technology continues to develop and costs decline, researchers are beginning to talk about a “tipping point” where energy produced from renewable sources becomes less expensive than that generated from conventional energy sources. But there was no agreement among experts on when that might happen or how.
As a result of the uncertainty around this tipping point, most models of the global energy system assumed continued fossil fuel dominance into the future, and these models underestimated how quickly solar energy would grow in the real world. In 2022, a report by the International Energy Agency expected that solar energy would represent only 25% of electricity production by 2050.
Low cost drives rapid transition to solar energy
In a study recently published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers from the University of Exeter and University College London re-posed the following question: Have we already crossed a turning point where solar energy is poised to become the dominant source of electricity generation? They sought to answer it.
The findings, which the researchers reached by incorporating the latest technological and economic data from 70 regions around the world into a macroeconomic model, indicate that the solar energy revolution has already begun, and that this type of renewable energy is on its way to making up more than half of the world’s electricity generation sources. world level by the middle of this century. Experts believe that this massive transformation will be possible even without relying on more stringent climate policies.
The researchers wrote in An article published on “The Conversation” website ((The Conversation)) They identified two main factors that would drive the rapid expansion of solar energy, which are the ability to bear the costs of this type of renewable energy, and the reduction in the period required to build solar plants, which usually does not exceed one year only, compared to three years for power generation plants. From the wind.
Building solar farms faster allows investors to benefit from their cost-effectiveness sooner than offshore wind farms (and many other renewable energy infrastructure), allowing the cost of solar energy production to continue to fall by 60% from 2020 to 2050.
If these forecasts hold, solar energy and its storage systems are expected to become the cheapest option for generating electricity in almost all regions of the world by 2030. In the same year, it is expected to be 50% less expensive than building new coal-fired capacity in European Union countries. The United States, India, China, Japan and Brazil.
Obstacles to transformation
Despite this optimistic forecast, moving forward with the energy transition towards reliance on solar energy is not without obstacles. According to a statement published on the University of Exeter website, the researchers identified 4 basic obstacles that could hinder progress:
the first: The need for electricity networks to adapt to the changing nature of solar power generation. This adaptation requires adopting diverse renewable energy sources, linking regional networks together, storing large amounts of electricity, good management of energy demand and providing incentives to encourage the use of renewable energies.
the second: Reducing the global disparity in the availability of financing to implement renewable energy projects. Currently, most investments are directed towards high-income countries, while low-income countries – especially Africa, despite their enormous potential – suffer from a severe lack of financing for these solar energy projects.
the third: The need to provide the necessary materials to develop the solar energy industry. A future dominated by solar energy is likely to be metal-intensive, which will increase the demand for “vital minerals” needed for electricity production and the battery industry, such as lithium and copper. As efforts to decarbonize energy sources continue, renewable technologies are expected to account for 40% of total mineral demand for copper and rare earth elements, as well as between 60 and 70% for nickel and cobalt, and about 90% for lithium by 2040.
And the fourth: Consider how traditional energy-based industries may slow this crucial transition. This rapid energy transition could affect the livelihoods of up to 13 million people worldwide who work in the fossil fuel sector and other industries that depend on it. .