Are we finally in the death-throes of the fossil fuel era?

Global efforts to curb the use of fossil fuels are being made by all of the world’s leading nations, but occasionally, despite the genuine momentum, it can still feel like everything is moving a bit too slowly.

However, a new eye-catching report put together by London-based think tank Carbon Tracker, shows that we might’ve finally left fossil fuels in the ground for good by 2035.

Their research reveals that by 2035, we could be generating over 100 times the amount of electricity that we need to meet global demand, purely from wind and solar. Furthermore, with the cost of renewables declining so rapidly, fossil fuels could naturally be forced out of the market altogether.

If Carbon Tracker’s findings are mirrored in reality, we could be on the threshold of rapid acceleration towards global Net Zero. To illustrate just how feasible their conclusions are, Carbon Tracker points out that the world’s current electricity demand stands at 27 PWh, but by relying on wind and solar, we could generate thousands of petawatts – practically an unlimited supply.

Additionally, this scenario modelling is sensible and isn’t based on ridiculous amounts of land use for renewables installations. If powered by solar alone, they write, we’d need just 450,000 km2 – just 0.3% of the world’s total land area. Saliently, this is a lot less than is currently used by the fossil fuel industry. So not only would we gain a cleaner world, but we’d also gain more of it.

“The fossil fuel era is over”

If renewables prices continue to tumble at their current rate, we’ll see coal, gas and oil priced out of the market by the mid 2030s. There simply won’t be a reason, by that point, to ever turn back to the bad old days of Big Oil. When this transition happens, we could see some startling reversals in fortunes, with oil becoming the poor relation of the industry.

To many, this seems like an unlikely and utopian vision, but Carbon Tracker insists that the hour is nigh.

“We are entering a new epoch, comparable to the industrial revolution,” writes Kingsmill Bond, Carbon Tracker’s lead strategist and the report’s author.

“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.”

Looking forwards, looking back

Of course, a key determinant of what might happen in the future is what has already come to pass. We now know, courtesy of the International Energy Agency, that solar power has indeed become the cheapest form of electricity in history for most countries.

In fact, the cost of electricity from photovoltaics has fallen 82% over just the past decade. Similarly, the cost of online and offshore wind had dramatically fallen too, by 39% and 29% respectively. And as we continue to scale up, those costs are likely going to go one way. This revolution simply isn’t comparable to the oil boom in which monopolies were formed and prices driven up.

Ruth Chapman, MD of renewables firm Dulas writes that, “it’s going to be an exciting and transformative decade for those in the energy industry. We are in the middle of the process of transitioning but over the next ten years, changes will be much more noticeable and impactful.”

“We are currently only using a fraction of the renewable energy that’s available to us — the report calculates that less than 0.16% of wind energy potential is being exploited for example. Unleashing the power that’s there is going to change everything and give us a fairer, cleaner world. It’s the change that we all hope for and it’s looking likely that we’ll see it come to fruition before the decade is out.”

Harry Benham, co-author of the report and chairman of the climate think-tank Ember, said: “The world does not need to exploit its entire renewable resource — just 1% is enough to replace all fossil fuel usage. Each year we are fuelling the climate crisis by burning three million years of fossilised sunshine in coal, oil and gas while we use just 0.01% of daily sunshine.”

It’s also interesting to note the flipside. Between 2012 and 2020, fossil fuel companies have lost £123bn of their value, demonstrating that they are losing their footing as a dominant market force.

Nobody knows precisely what will happen over the next few decades but a great many reports are now coalescing in their position that renewables are going to surpass fossil fuels at a rate of knots.

Whatever happens, this next period is sure to go down in history as a paradigm shift, ushering in the truly modern era.

You can download Carbon Tracker’s report ‘The Sky’s the limit’ here.

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