The future of renewable energy: what can we expect?
The world is full of uncertainty, particularly regarding the dynamics of climate change. Finding out exactly what will happen is an impossible, though not pointless exercise. We can’t see the future, but we can predict it and make judgements based on the best available information we have. In relation to people, the economy and politics, it is perhaps even more complex to predict than natural phenomena. It is however essential in understanding the scale of action required and how we can drive change.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has recently released Renewables 2019, an analysis and forecast of global renewable energy up until 2024. This is a great insight into the global trends, market movements and predicted action over the next five years. This report details the scale of global change likely to happen, what the changes are, and where they will be made.
What are the key renewable energy findings?
The good news is that the IEA has revised the projections upwards since its 2018 publication (R2018), with renewable capacity now predicted to increase by over 50% by 2024. Though this year wind power has hit the headlines multiple times in the UK, it is solar energy which is predicted to account for over 60% of this growth globally, mostly utility-scale. However, distributed PV is one of the largest growing technologies, predicted to grow by 250% over the period. Wind power, hydropower and bioenergy respectively hold the next largest increases.
Where are the changes coming from?
As many would expect, China is driving a majority of the renewables capacity increase, investing heavily in wind power and solar PV, transitioning to a competitive auction system used in much of Europe. The EU, the current leaders in offshore wind, are forecasted to be overtaken by China in deployment. This growth leads to a projected three-fold increase in offshore wind capacity globally. Onshore wind capacity is expected to grow much less, with a 57% increase coming mainly from the EU, despite slower growth in China and the US.
How does this affect grid carbon intensities?
Renewable capacity growth doesn’t necessarily mean grid intensities will decrease, due to changes in overall energy demand, efficiencies, grid connectivity and usage patterns. These capacity changes do however indicate the projected momentum, investment and government support of these renewable technologies globally.
In the UK, renewable capacity is expected to increase by 30% by 2024, with a majority of this utilising the country’s plentiful offshore wind potential. More specific forecasts for the UK in relation to energy are published annually by the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). They predict renewables to follow a linear increase, while gas and coal decline. Nuclear is expected to increase to meet the baseload requirements of the grid. Regarding emissions, they estimate a 16% decrease in emissions from energy supply between 2019 and 2024.
How accurate/reliable are these?
The IEA forecasts are based on a market analysis of key countries, looking at policies, demand, and likely trends. However, in such an uncertain political climate – particularly relating to climate change, these projections will likely depend of the outputs of COP 25 in December, and the impact of global movements such Extinction Rebellion. The IEA has been criticized in the past for consistently underestimating the growth of renewable energy, which is promising, if not accurate. In the UK, the additional uncertainty of a December election means that the UK’s path towards a decarbonised energy grid is not yet set in stone.
What can we take from this?
There remains much hope to be had in these identified trends. Huge predicted growth in solar PV markets will stimulate innovation and reduce costs, especially if these trends are underestimated. Offshore wind increasing threefold in 5 years will act in the same way, providing a utility-scale alternative to fossil fuels. The impact to businesses and people alike is the same – increasingly affordable and green energy. The emphasis is then on businesses and consumers to take up their end of the bargain – use energy efficiently and decarbonise their direct fuel consumption.
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