Top 10 renewables trends

By Dominic Ellis
Carbon Tracker Sky's The Limit report makes upbeat forecasts while highlighting regional differences

The numbers in Carbon Tracker's Sky's The Limit report are enormous. The technical and economic potential of solar and wind is thousands of PWh a year while annual electricity demand is just 27 PWh1, and annual energy demand in terms of electrical energy is 65PWh. If you put up solar panels on the same space as Ghawar (280km by 30 km), most countries would be able to generate as much energy in terms of electricity as the world's largest oilfield. Here are the report's key findings:

10: We enter a new era

The unlocking of energy reserves 100 times our current demand creates new possibilities for cheaper energy and more local jobs in a more equitable world with far less environmental stress.

09: Germany is a special case

Germany has the third lowest solar and wind technical potential in the world relative to its energy demand. The troubles faced by Germany are therefore highly unusual, and if they can solve them then so can everyone else.

08: Poor countries are the greatest beneficiaries

They have the largest ratio of solar and wind potential to energy demand, and stand to unlock huge domestic benefits. The continent of Africa for example is a renewables superpower, with 39% of global potential.

07: Countries fall into four groups

They range from those with 'superabundant' renewables potential, more than 1,000 times their energy demand - such as Namibia - to 'abundant', 'replete' and 'stretched' potential - the latter are those with less than 10 times their demand, like South Korea, which will face tough choices and be forced to import renewables through pipes, cables or ships.

06: The fossil fuel era is over

The fossil fuel industry cannot compete with the technology learning curves of renewables, so demand will inevitably fall as solar and wind continue to grow. At the current 15-20% growth rates of solar and wind, fossil fuels will be pushed out of the electricity sector by the mid 2030s and out of total energy supply by 2050.

05: The tide is coming in fast

The technical and economic barriers have been crossed and the only impediment to change is political. Sector by sector and country by country the fossil fuel incumbency "is being swamped by the rapidly rising tide of new energy technologies," according to the report.

04: People will take advantage of cheap energy

Humans specialise in extracting cheap energy, and fast, as witnessed by the rapid development of shale gas. Now the opportunity has been unlocked, expect continued exponential growth of solar and wind deployment; as things stand, we've tapped just 0.01% of solar's potential and 0.16% of wind's potential.

03: Land is no constraint

The land required for solar panels alone to provide all global energy is 450,000sq kms, 0.3% of the global land area of 149 million sq kms. That is less than the land required for fossil fuels today, which in the US alone is 126,000sq kms, 1.3% of the country.

02: The opportunity has only just been unlocked

The collapse in renewable costs in the last three years means that solar and wind technologies have only just started to reach fruition. Over 50% of today's renewable technical potential is cheaper than fossil fuels, and by the end of the decade it will be 90%.

01: Huge new cheap energy resources are available

With current technology, and in a subset of available locations, we can capture at least 6,700 PWh per year from solar and wind, which is more than 100 times global energy demand.


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