Research Shows Solar Power, Storage Allow for Affordable Energy Transition

by | Sep 26, 2023

This article is included in these additional categories:

A study from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) found that sharp price declines in solar, wind power, and other fossil-fuel-free technologies have made possible a more affordable pathway to address international sustainability transitions.

In the last 10 years the cost of electricity derived from solar power has dropped 87% and the cost of battery storage by 85%, revealing promising, cost-effective options for reducing global warming. Batteries used for solar energy storage also now cost less than $100 per kilowatt hour, much lower than costs projected two years ago. Costs are expected to drop even further by 2030.

These findings are especially welcome given some other cost estimates, including the UN’s recent projection that $5 trillion a year will be required to meet sustainable development goals by 2030.

Although researchers admit the scenario is “extremely optimistic,” they nonetheless explain that it is possible. The study explores an energy transition that includes less energy input and relies more on emissions-free energy sources. Most predictions compatible with the Paris Agreement expect continued burning of coal and biomass paired with carbon capture, but the present study shows much lower costs in scaling up technologies that do not produce emissions in the first place.

Political Obstacles to Energy Transition, Structural Benefits of Clean Energy Technologies

The study cites the political challenges involved in climate change mitigation, especially the political economy of coal. However, researchers found that renewables have a much higher payoff than coal.

According to the MCC’s projections, if existing coal plants were to be shut down and replaced with solar battery systems, 63,000 terawatts of solar energy would be available worldwide, equivalent to twice the amount of energy generated by coal today. At present, 80% of private investments are now fossil fuel-free, but governments continue to invest in coal because of factors like tax payments, jobs, and various political constraints.

The current trend toward granular technologies, or those that can be put together simply, piece-by-piece, also benefits renewables. Solar cells, batteries, heat pumps, and wind turbines do not require a large-scale system and can therefore be built efficiently. Innovation continues in the renewable energy sector as organizations explore even greater capacity for new emissions-free technologies.

“Greenhouse gas emissions are higher than ever and the measures taken so far are too weak, but in this politically difficult situation, technological progress provides a ray of hope,” said Jan Minx, head of the MCC Applied Sustainability Science working group and one of the co-authors. “New scenario models, some of which are starting to be explored, are likely to demonstrate in the foreseeable future that the global climate transition might not be as expensive as previously assumed, and may even be cost-saving – provided it is finally tackled.”

Additional articles you will be interested in.

Stay Informed

Get E+E Leader Articles delivered via Newsletter right to your inbox!

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Share This