The first year of the decade began with the hopes of change, a change for better environment, climate policies, and justice.
What a change this year has brought indeed! Many lives were changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The whole situation has also proved the urgency of matter at hand: taking care of our planet, thus the future of humanity. In this article, I go over the outlook and progress reports published by various sources to get an overall picture of solar and other renewable energy sources in 2020 and beyond.
Lessons from the Pandemic
2020 has created economic and social instability all around the world. Energy transition policies were slowed down due to the uncertainty created by the pandemic. Many governments were not able to reach their goals in this area. Considering these, IEA made an outlook consisting of four different scenarios about the possible energy futures.
1) The Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS) assumes that Covid-19 is gradually brought under control in 2021. The global economy returns to pre-crisis levels the same year. This scenario reflects all of today’s announced policy intentions and targets; they are backed up by detailed measures to be realised.
2) The Delayed Recovery Scenario (DRS) is designed with the same policy assumptions as in the STEPS. Yet, a prolonged pandemic causes lasting damage to economic prospects. The global economy returns to its pre-crisis size only in 2023.
3) In the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS), a surge in clean energy policies and investment puts the energy system on track. This surge makes the achievement of sustainable energy objectives possible, including the Paris Agreement, energy access, and air quality goals.
4) The new Net Zero Emissions by 2050 case (NZE2050) extends the SDS analysis. This scenario assumes the net-zero emissions are achieved in the SDS, putting global emissions on track for net-zero by 2070. The NZE2050 includes the first detailed IEA modeling of what would be needed in the next ten years to put global CO2 emissions on track for net-zero by 2050.
In all these scenarios, IEA projects that renewables increase, “with solar at the centre” of electricity generation technologies. IEA goes as far as declaring solar energy as the “new king,” especially considering the rapidly increasing numbers of installation (on and off-grid) as well as dramatically decreasing costs.
Renewables meet almost half of the energy demand in a record
It is not surprising when it is considered that “the British government admits that solar and wind energy has proved between 30% and 50% cheaper than initially estimated” (Forbes). Additionally, the good news such as in the first quarter of 2020, the U.K. went without burning coal for the longest consecutive days for the first time. Also, renewable energy sources comprised around %47 of total electricity demand.
Similarly, FraunhoferISE released promising numbers for the first half of the year in Germany. According to FraunhoferISE’s data, “At 55.8 per cent, the share of renewables set a new record. In February, their share even reached a new high of 61.8 per cent. In the first six months of 2020, solar and wind fed a total of 102.9 terawatt-hours(TWh) into the public grid, compared with 92.3 TWh in the first half of 2019.” Sun and wind constituted a more significant share of the pie in Germany. Also, in other good news, South Australia broke a new record on 12 October with the combination of rooftop and utility-scale solar meeting 100 per cent of demand for the first time.
How IEA’s scenarios see the future
Going back to the IEA scenarios, in the STEPS scenario, renewables meet 80% of the growth in global electricity demand to 2030. Also, solar energy is estimated to be the main catalyser of the transition as it keeps setting new records. The on shore and offshore wind follows it.
In the SDS and NZE2050 scenarios, particularly the advance in solar and nuclear energy’s in the generation of renewable sources plays a more prominent role. These scenarios also emphasise the importance of storage, as the speed and quality of change is dependent on robust grids, reliable supplies, and grid operations. It is expected that India becomes the largest market for utility-scale battery storage since the country has accelerated its incentive and work in the advancement of batteries.
Renewables for climate goals
Solar energy has gained widespread availability in terms of price and infrastructure in the last decade. This situation resulted in the decrease of costs in solar P.V., making it cheaper than coal or gas in most countries. While solar energy enjoys its new throne as the new king and is expected to grow even further, IEA realistically reminds us that avoiding new emissions may prove insufficient to reach the climate goals by the mid-century. For instance, the European Parliament has tightened the E.U. climate target for 2030 and updated its aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent compared to 1990. Even though this proves that the global governments have started to realise the urgency of the situation, it is crucial to address the emissions from existing infrastructures.
If you want to read more details, there are many sources available
For further reading, I have a couple of last recommendations. You can find detailed data focused on the U.S on the Solar Energy Industries Association website. IRENA’s November 2019 report focuses on the future of solar photovoltaic and the issues of deployment, investment, technology, grid integration, as well as socio-economic aspects surrounding solar P.V. You can reach this interesting read here. Lastly, NREL’s September 2020 Update report provides excellent insights ranging from global solar deployment to global manufacturing, system pricing, and market activity. The presentation can be found here. Additionally, feel free to check out the sources that I consulted and provided below. This article hoped to provide a review of this year and a glimpse into the future.
Conclusion: solar is the future and the future is now!
Ditching fossil fuels and decarbonising our energy and economy is the only way forward if we want to have a sustainable foreseeable future – as close as tomorrow, perhaps! Accelerating the transition to renewables is the most important step humanity can take. Of course, this goal compels investors, energy companies, corporations, and governments to take swift actions and to make citizens a substantial part of the transition. This decade has started with a lesson for those who were ready to learn. The next ten years will play an important role in deciding the fate of humanity on this planet. The future of solar energy creatively and efficiently integrated into various places in our daily lives now seems brighter than ever.
FraunhoferISE Press Release #16. " German Net Electricity Generation in First Half of 2020", https://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/en/press-media/press-releases/2020/net-energy-production-first-half-of-2020.html
Dans, Enrique. "What is happening with solar energy?" Forbes, 17.10.2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/enriquedans/2020/10/17/what-is-happening-with-solarenergy/
IEA (2020), World Energy Outlook 2020, IEA, Paris. https://www.iea.org/reports/world-energy-outlook-2020
Cover image: Doran Erickson