Fully renewable electricity possible by 2050, says new study

A new study has claimed that a global electricity network powered exclusively by renewables is possible by 2050, and will be cheaper than today’s system.


(Credit: Jürgen via flickr)

The report was carried out by Finland’s Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and the Energy Watch Group (EWG), an international non-profit that includes scientists and politicians. Presenting their results on the sidelines of the COP23 climate conference in Bonn, the researchers said that existing renewables potential, coupled with storage, could meet global demand by the middle of the century.

By that point, the planet's increased population is predicted to consume around 48,800TWh of electricity per annum, roughly double what is used currently. However, the authors of the study estimate the total levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) from 100 per cent renewables in 2050 will be €52/MWh (including curtailment, storage and some grid costs), compared to €70/MWh in 2015.

“A full decarbonisation of the electricity system by 2050 is possible for lower system cost than today based on available technology,” said lead author Christian Breyer, LUT Professor of Solar Economy and chairman of the EWG Scientific Board.

“Energy transition is no longer a question of technical feasibility or economic viability, but of political will.”


Energy mix in 2015 vs estimated 2050 mix (Credit: LUT/EWG)

According to the researchers, solar PV and battery storage will be at the heart of the transition. Rapidly falling costs for both technologies will encourage widespread adoption, with solar making up 69 per cent of the energy mix by 2050. Total storage output is expected to increase from 33TWh to 15,128TWh. The vast majority of this (95 per cent) will be provided by batteries, with seasonal storage coming via renewable gas. Pumped hydro storage - which currently accounts for 93 per cent of storage output – is predicted to provide just one per cent come 2050. The Engineer will be taking a closer look at pumped hydro storage in the upcoming issue.


The report also states that if the path to 100 per cent renewables is followed, global greenhouse emissions from electricity production will decline from about 11GtCO2 in 2015 to zero emissions by 2050. Furthermore, it is claimed that total jobs in the electricity sector will increase from 19 million to 36 million.

”There is no reason to invest one more dollar in fossil or nuclear power production,” said EWG president Hans-Josef Fell .

“Renewable energy provides cost-effective power supply. All plans for a further expansion of coal, nuclear, gas and oil have to be ceased. More investments need to be channeled in renewable energies and the necessary infrastructure for storage and grids. Everything else will lead to unnecessary costs and increasing global warming.”