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New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

Solar and wind can meet world energy demand ‘100 times over’


Aerial view of solar farm Photo: Adobe Stock
Building enough solar panels to meet entire global energy demand would take up just 0.3% of land, according to Carbon Tracker

Photo: Adobe Stock

Huge falls in the cost of solar and wind power in the last few years have unlocked an energy reserve that can meet world demand 100 times over – and most is already economic compared with fossil fuels – according to a new report from Carbon Tracker.

Solar and wind are inexhaustible sources of energy, and at current growth rates will push fossil fuels out of the electricity sector by the mid-2030s, claims Carbon Tracker’s latest report.


Kingsmill Bond, Energy Strategist, Carbon Tracker, and report lead author, notes: ‘We are entering a new epoch, comparable to the industrial revolution. Energy will tumble in price and become available to millions more, particularly in low-income countries. Geopolitics will be transformed as nations are freed from expensive imports of coal, oil and gas. Clean renewables will fight catastrophic climate change and free the planet from deadly pollution.’


Global energy consumption in 2019 was 65 Petawatt hours (PWh). However, with current technology the world has the potential to capture more than 5,800 PWh/y from solar PV alone – as much power in a single year as could be generated by burning all known fossil fuel reserves. In addition, onshore and offshore wind could capture nearly 900 PWh/y, according to the study.


The report finds that around 60% of the world’s solar resource and 15% of its wind resource is already economic compared with local fossil fuel generation. By 2030, all the solar and over half of the wind is likely to be economic.


Building enough solar panels to meet global energy demand would take up just 0.3% of land, less than the area occupied by fossil fuels. The world’s largest oil field, Ghawar in Saudi Arabia, which occupies 8,400 km2, produces the equivalent of 0.9 PWh/y. Building solar panels over the same area would generate 1.2 PWh/y on average globally and 1.6 PWh in Saudi Arabia, which is sunnier than average.


The study finds that the opportunity is greatest in emerging markets that have the highest solar and wind potential relative to their domestic demand. Many are still building out their energy systems, and cheap renewables offer a route to bring power to more people, create new industries, jobs and wealth.


Carbon Tracker notes that Africa has a massive 39% of global potential and could become a renewables superpower. The economic potential of solar has been unleashed by a huge fall in costs, down by an average 18% every year since 2010. It is growing faster than any previous energy technology at this size with an average annual increase of 39% in the last decade – nearly doubling capacity every two years. Wind is on a similar trajectory: over the last decade prices have fallen by an average 9%/y while capacity has grown 17%/y. This is driving efficiencies and advances such as better panels and higher turbines, which reduce costs further.


Financial markets are waking up to the opportunity – in 2020, for the first time, clean energy companies raised more money than fossil fuel companies through public offerings.


The report says the key barrier to change is now political, but growth is likely to continue as more countries recognise the potential of renewables, and the opportunity is huge. In 2019, solar generated just 0.7 PWh globally and wind 1.4 PWh.


The report finds that the scale and falling costs of this vast, cheap energy resource is likely to drive continued exponential growth in the deployment of solar and wind generation. A growth rate of 15% would see solar and wind generate all global electricity by the mid-2030s and provide all energy by 2050 as falling costs and technological advances overcome the challenges of powering sectors like steel and cement production.