Will renewable energy meet future demands?

Can renewable energy power the future? Yes, it most certainly can. In fact, it’s already quietly catching up and overtaking fossil fuel production in some parts of the world, notably in the UK. Here, PIF explores the relationship between renewable energy and future energy demand.

Renewable energy future for the developing world

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the industrial sector uses more delivered energy than any other end-use sector, consuming about 54% of the world’s total delivered energy. Delivered energy is the amount of energy consumed at the point of sale without adjusting for any energy loss in the generation, transmission and distribution of that energy.

In a 2016 report about industrial sector energy consumption, the EIA predicted that worldwide industrial sector energy consumption could increase by an average of 1.2 percent per year, from “222 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2012 to 309 quadrillion Btu in 2040”. Most of that demand they predict will come from countries outside the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

As such, they projected that between 2012 and 2040, industrial energy consumption in non-OECD countries could grow by as much as 1.5 percent annually, compared to 0.5 percent in OECD countries. That means that non-OECD industrial energy consumption, which accounted for 67 percent of world industrial sector delivered energy in 2012, could grow to a whopping 73 percent by 2040.

That’s a lot of energy needed. Can we meet those demands with renewable energy?

Can renewable energy power the future?

There are already green shoots of optimism for renewable energy and future prospects. Because a quiet energy revolution, akin to the relentless and determined revolutions of a wind turbine, is sweeping the globe. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), global renewable generation capacity increased by 167 Gigawatts (GW) in 2017, reaching a worldwide total of 2,179 GW. Capacity has grown by an average rate of 8.3 percent year-on-year for the last seven years, they reported.

“This latest data confirms that the global energy transition continues to move forward at a fast pace, thanks to rapidly falling prices, technology improvements and an increasingly favourable policy environment,” said IRENA Director-General, Adnan Z. Amin. “Renewable energy is now the solution for countries looking to support economic growth and job creation, just as it is for those seeking to limit carbon emissions, expand energy access, reduce air pollution and improve energy security.”

Renewable energy and future energy demand

The growing availability and falling cost of renewable energy generation certainly bodes well for future energy demands. In 2017, solar photovoltaics (PV) grew by a massive 32 percent, followed by wind energy, which grew by 10 percent. Underpinning this growth were major cost reductions, with the life cycle cost of electricity from solar PV decreasing by 73 percent and onshore wind by nearly a quarter between 2010 to 2017. Both technologies are now within the cost range of fossil fuel generated power.

If all this still seems like a distant pipedream, you might be surprised to hear that the UK’s capacity of renewable energy overtook fossil fuels for the first time this year. This incredible milestone is the culmination of five years of steady growth. During which time Britain’s renewable capacity has tripled, while fossil fuels’ has nosedived by a third. The upshot being that between July and September 2018, the capacity of solar, biomass, wind and hydropower reached 41.9 GW, surpassing the 41.2 GW capacity of oil, gas and coal-fired power plants.

Good news indeed and hopefully a sign of things to come.

If you’d like to read more about the impact renewable energy can have on power generation and climate change, then why not check out our “Top 10 renewable energy facts” for some deeper insights into this rapidly expanding industry.

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