Sky's the Limit: Report

Solar and wind potential is far higher than that of fossil fuels and can meet global energy demand many times over, unlocking huge benefits for society.

Key findings

There is a huge new cheap energy resource available. With current technology and in a subset of available locations we can capture at least 6,700 PWh p.a. from solar and wind, which is more than 100 times global energy demand.

The opportunity has only just been unlocked. The collapse in renewable costs in the last three years means that half of this solar and wind technical potential now has economic potential, and by the end of the decade it will be over 90% of it.

Land is no constraint. The land required for solar panels alone to provide all global energy is 450,000 km2, 0.3% of the global land area of 149 million km2. That is less than the land required for fossil fuels today, which in the US alone is 126,000 km2, 1.3% of the country.

People will take advantage of the cheap energy. Humans specialise in extracting cheap energy, and fast, as witnessed by the rapid development of shale gas. Now the opportunity has been unlocked, expect continued exponential growth of solar and wind deployment.

The tide is coming in fast. The technical and economic barriers have been crossed and the only impediment to change is political. Sector by sector and country by country the fossil fuel incumbency is being swamped by the rapidly rising tide of new energy technologies.

The fossil fuel era is over. The fossil fuel industry cannot compete with the technology learning curves of renewables, so demand will inevitably fall as solar and wind continue to grow. At the current 15-20% growth rates of solar and wind, fossil fuels will be pushed out of the electricity sector by the mid 2030s and out of total energy supply by 2050.

There are four key groups of countries. They range from those with superabundant renewables potential, more than 1,000 times their energy demand like Namibia, all the way down to those with stretched potential of less than 10 times their demand like South Korea.

Poor countries are the greatest beneficiaries. They have the largest ratio of solar and wind potential to energy demand, and stand to unlock huge domestic benefits. The continent of Africa for example is a renewables superpower, with 39% of global potential.

Germany is a special case. Germany has the third lowest solar and wind technical potential in the world relative to its energy demand. The troubles faced by Germany are therefore highly unusual, and if they can solve them then so can everyone else.

We enter a new era. The unlocking of energy reserves 100 times our current demand creates new possibilities for cheaper energy and more local jobs in a more equitable world with far less environmental stress.

Download the full report here

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