Renewable energy deployment surge puts global power system on track for the IEA’s ambitious net-zero pathway
- New analysis by RMI, in partnership with the Bezos Earth Fund, reveals surging solar, wind and battery capacity out to 2030 is now in line with ambitious net-zero scenarios. The forecasts see solar and wind supplying over a third of all power by 2030 (up from around 12% currently), while the major cost declines over the past 10 years are expected to continue with solar and wind roughly halving in price again by 2030.
- Complementary research from Systems Change Lab shows eight countries, ranging from Uruguay to Denmark to Namibia, are already proving this is possible, having scaled up solar and wind at rates faster than what’s needed globally to limit global warming to 1.5°C, based on IEA scenarios.
- This exponential growth has put the electricity system at a global tipping point — where the transition away from fossil fuels has become hard to reverse, suggesting fossil fuel demand has peaked in the electricity sector and will be in freefall by the end of the decade.
- The COP28 goal to triple renewables capacity by 2030 is now within reach, provided further barriers are removed, including grid investment, streamlined permitting, improved market structures, and greater storage.
Two new pieces of research show that solar and wind are growing faster than expected:
Rapid growth in solar, wind and battery deployment means that by 2030 the global electricity system can deliver ambitious net-zero pathways, according to new research by RMI done in partnership with the Bezos Earth Fund. This exponential growth in renewable electricity is unlocking widespread benefits, including security of supply and jobs growth, as well as countering energy price inflation.
Complementary research from Systems Change Lab, also published today, shows eight countries have already grown solar and wind generation faster than what’s needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C, proving that a rapid transition to renewable energy is possible.
By 2030, solar and wind is forecast by RMI to supply over a third of all global electricity, up from around 12% today. Based on the forecasts, this would see solar and wind generate 12,000-14,000TWh by 2030, 3-4 times higher compared with 2022 levels. It would also surpass recent calls running up to COP28 for a tripling of total renewable energy capacity by 2030.
Meanwhile, fossil fuel demand for electricity will be in steep decline, according to the RMI analysis, down as much as 30% from the 2022 peak by 2030, as renewable electricity further outcompetes hydrocarbons on cost.
Diverse countries leading the charge
Certain key countries and regions including China and Europe are leading the way in adopting clean energy technology, at an exponential growth rate. However, renewable deployment is also becoming ever more distributed globally, including across the Middle East and Africa, which are rapidly catching up with and harnessing the global growth trend.
Uruguay, Denmark, Lithuania, Namibia, Netherlands, Palestine, Jordan, and Chile have all already grown solar and wind generation at rapid speeds, demonstrating that a rapid transition can be achieved across many different contexts, research from Systems Change Lab shows.
Globally, wind and solar need to grow from 12% to 41% by 2030, an increase of 29 percentage points. Denmark, Uruguay, and Lithuania have already achieved such an increase over a comparable span of eight years. Namibia, the Netherlands, Palestine, Jordan, and Chile have grown solar and wind generation at sufficient rates for five years.
These countries scaled-up wind and solar under very different circumstances. They span both developing and developed countries, with a GDP per capita ranging from $4,000 to $67,000 per year. The countries were driven to accelerate renewables by a variety of factors, including adopting smart and effective policies, maintaining political commitment, lowering the costs of renewable power and improving energy security.
“The exponential growth trend in renewable electricity can be harnessed to help developing countries get ahead of the curve and transition faster to a cleaner and more affordable electricity system,” Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund.
Cost advantage gives boost to green energy
Exponential rates of deployment are driving down renewable prices at unprecedented pace, rendering higher cost hydrocarbons uncompetitive in most markets.
RMI forecasts that what is already the cheapest form of electricity in history will roughly halve in price again by 2030, falling as low as $20/MWh for solar from over $40MWh currently.
The cost of renewable electricity has plummeted over the past 10 years, overcoming a key barrier to widespread deployment. Solar and battery costs have declined 80% between 2012 and 2022, while offshore wind costs are down 73% and onshore wind costs are 57% down, BNEF data shows.
“Exponential growth of clean energy is an unstoppable force that will put more spending power in the pockets of consumers. The benefit of rapid renewable deployment is greater energy security and independence, plus long-term energy price deflation because this is a manufactured technology – the more you install the cheaper it gets,” said Kingsmill Bond, Senior Principal, RMI.
This comes as the Global Stocktake, which delivers the results of a two-year assessment of global efforts to meet the goals of the Paris Agreements, is expected to highlight a major shortfall in necessary progress to stem the accelerating climate crisis. However, this backward-looking assessment misses the exponential growth of new energy technologies in the largest industries of the fossil fuel system. Electricity and road transport account for more than half of fossil fuel demand and have reached tipping points in deployment to pave the way for wide-spread adoption.
“This is a clear signal to policy makers, businesses and investors to seize the opportunity of accelerating the energy transition. The call to triple renewable electricity investment and capacity by 2030 are deliverable. But only by removing barriers to faster renewable deployment, from streamlining permitting to redirecting subsidies for polluting energy. Otherwise, the exponential growth we are seeing and the benefits that come with it could be derailed unnecessarily,” Christiana Figueres, Former Executive Secretary of UNFCCC and a Founding Partner of Global Optimism.
A new report says ongoing improvements in solar and wind technology will continue to drive sharp cost declines that will make them even more competitive against fossil fuels.
Renewable energies already exceed fossil fuels in cost worldwide and, according to analysts, the gap will only grow.
By 2030, technological improvements could reduce current prices by a quarter for wind power and half for solar power, according to the authors of a recent report by clean energy think tank RMI. (Canary Media is an independent subsidiary of RMI).
These notable and ongoing cost reductions have made clean energy so attractive that it now surpasses fossil fuels for new investment: 62 percent of global energy investment is expected to flow into clean energy technologies this year.
That money is helping push renewable energy to new heights. According to International Energy Agency estimates, global clean energy capacity is expected to rise this year by a staggering 107 gigawatts to more than 440 gigawatts, the largest increase in history.
What we’re experiencing “is an energy technology revolution,” said report co-author Kingsmill Bond, an energy strategist at RMI. It’s obvious from the data, but the point is often lost in “a constant drumbeat of counternarratives” about how difficult it is, and will be, to leave fossil fuels behind, he added.
“FOR US. Demand for fossil fuels peaked 15 years ago,” Bond said. “This is happening; “People have just missed it.”
Renewable energy costs have fallen, and are expected to continue falling, because these technologies are on “learning curves”: for each cumulative doubling of the technology implemented, their cost decreases by a quantifiable percentage that varies by technology. Learning curves are a robust phenomenon that has been observed in more than 50 types of technology. Over the past 40 years, the average learning rate has been 20% for solar and 13% for wind.
That’s the underrated power of learning by doing; The more solar panels and turbines people make, the more they figure out how to make them better, faster, and cheaper. The range of cost declines predicted by the RMI report is based on both these long-term average learning rates and the higher rates seen in more recent years (30% for solar and 25% for wind).
Fossil fuels, on the other hand, have not reached empirical learning curves. For more than a century, fossil fuel prices have fluctuated wildly without ever trending downward.
Fossil fuels are not getting cheaper because they are not technologies, but rather commodities extracted from the earth, said Sam Butler-Sloss, report co-author and energy analyst at RMI. The technology used to mine and refine them goes through far fewer iterations than solar panels and wind turbine blades, which are mass-produced, a characteristic of technologies with fast learning rates.
Lower costs are just one reason to pursue clean energy among many others that are much harder to assign a dollar value to, Butler-Sloss said: greater energy security, less price volatility, lives saved from fossil fuel pollution displaced and avoid climate change. disasters that come with a much warmer world. All of those concerns point to investing in a renewable energy future, he added.
That is not to say that the energy revolution will happen on its own. As the report says, “We have to work hard” to stay on this trajectory. “We need to build networks, change permitting laws, expand flexibility solutions, improve regulatory and market systems, and accelerate deployment in the Global South.”
But those actions will only get easier as renewable energy becomes cheaper, according to Butler-Sloss. “There is an inexorable economic logic to this transition,” he said. And while the transition needs to be faster, “it provides a huge boost to getting the economy on our side.”
Modeling exponential change
The exponential approach models rapid change of the new and concludes that the energy transition is on track. The key is to remove the barriers to change and to allow renewables to maintain their current growth trajectory.
To illustrate the difference between the linear and exponential, consider the question of solar capacity in 2050. Let us assume that it is necessary to deploy 30,000 GW of solar panels by 2050 in order to get to net zero. In 2022 itself we deployed 250 GW of solar panels according to BNEF and total deployment at the end of the year was 1,200 GW.
- The orthodox approach would argue that we need to deploy 1,000 GW per annum, we are only deploying 250 GW, and therefore we will be unable to get to our goals. There is a huge gap of 750 GW pa.
- An exponential approach notes that the growth of solar generation has been on an S curve for decades. To get to 30,000 GW in 2050, we need to get keep on going up the S curve to around 1,000 GW in 2030 and rise to a little above that level for the next 20 years. That will get us to (or beyond) 30,000 GW of solar capacity, and it is completely feasible so long as we stay on track.
RMI, founded as Rocky Mountain Institute, is an independent, non-partisan, nonprofit organization of experts across disciplines working to accelerate the clean energy transition and improve lives. RMI decarbonizes energy systems through rapid, market-based change in the world’s most critical geographies to align with a 1.5°C future and address the climate crisis. We work with businesses, policymakers, communities and other organizations to identify and scale energy system interventions that will cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 50% by 2030.
Systems Change Lab
Systems Change Lab aims to drive change at the pace and scale needed to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges: limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C, halting biodiversity loss and building a just and equitable economy. Convened by World Resources Institute and the Bezos Earth Fund, Systems Change Lab supports the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions and works with key partners and funders including Climate Action Tracker (a project of NewClimate Institute and Climate Analytics), ClimateWorks Foundation, Global Environment Facility, Just Climate, Mission Possible Partnership, Systemiq, University of Exeter, and the University of Tokyo’s Center for Global Commons, among others. Systems Change Lab is a component of the Global Commons Alliance.
Groundswell is a collaborative project, established by the Bezos Earth Fund, Global Optimism, and Systems Change Lab to support a diverse and distributed chorus of voices whose stories of achievements and further possibilities can inspire us all in this time of crisis.
Bezos Earth Fund
The is Jeff Bezos’ $10 billion commitment to fund scientists, activists, NGOs, and other actors who will drive climate and nature solutions. By allocating funds creatively, wisely, and boldly, the Bezos Earth Fund has the potential for transformative influence in this decisive decade. Funds will be fully allocated by 2030—the date the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals must be achieved.