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Solar, wind to generate half of the world’s electricity by 2050, report says — is that enough?

The world will get about half of its electricity from solar, wind, and battery storage by 2050, according to a new report.

The report comes from BloombergNEF, which says electricity demand will increase 62% during that time. Other non-fossil fuel sources will have a role to play as well, as fossil fuels fade. From Bloomberg:

By 2050, solar and wind will supply almost 50% of the world’s electricity, with hydro, nuclear and other renewable energy resources providing another 21%, according to BNEF. Coal will be the biggest loser in the power sector, with its share of global generation plunging from 37% today to 12% in 2050, BNEF said.

BloombergNEF says solar, wind, and batteries will allow the power sector to “meet its share of emission cuts required under the Paris climate agreement, at least until 2030.” BNEF believes renewables could generate 41% of total electricity by that time.

But after that, the report sees a need for other technologies to make deeper emission cuts, such as hydrogen, geothermal, or tidal energy, while considering that tech such as carbon capture may also eventually make a difference.

By 2050, the report claims Europe will get 92% of its electricity from renewables, and China and India will also get about two-thirds from solar and wind. It’s not as bullish on the US transition to clean energy, predicting that just 43% of the country’s power will come from renewables by 2050.

Long-term Looks

BNEF’s estimates are subdued compared to some other long-term studies in recent months. BNEF also points out that “even if every nation scrubs emissions from the power sector, there are still ample greenhouse gases from cars, trucks, ships, airplanes, heating systems and agriculture.”

A study released in April claimed that 100% renewable energy is possible across all sectors by 2050 — not just electricity, but in heat, transport, and desalination, as well. In that scenario, solar and wind would make up about 87% of the total energy supply by 2050, with bioenergy, hydropower, and geothermal making up most of the difference.

Another report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) found that renewables could account for two-thirds of energy consumption and 86% of power generation by 2050.

Neither of these other reports put much faith into technologies such as carbon capture, instead opting for an emphasis on increasing renewables.

Another recent IRENA study notes renewables are now the most inexpensive option for new power generation throughout most of the world, and BNEF’s numbers line up with that:

Since 2010, the cost of wind power has dropped by 49%, and solar has plummeted 85%, according to BNEF. That makes them cheaper than new coal or gas plants in two-thirds of the world. Battery storage costs, meanwhile, have dropped 85% since 2010.

Electrek’s Take

This certainly isn’t the first “by 2050” energy report we’ve seen and it surely won’t be the last. It’s not prudent of us to put faith in one report or another — it’s best to try to take all of these possibilities into consideration and learn something from each new bit of analysis.

But simply put, 50% of electricity from solar and wind by 2050 wouldn’t be good enough on a worldwide level, and a 41% estimate by that time for the US is just as concerning. It’s also a bit curious, considering how renewables are now already the cheapest option across most of the globe — and we’re still more than 30 years away from that 2050 mark.

BloombergNEF’s report places more than some importance on other technologies beyond solar and wind energy but notes that “it’s unclear which, if any, will be economical to deploy on a mass scale. And other low-emission technologies could be developed between now and 2030.”

This particular speculation offers no real answers, and only further bolsters the idea of concentrating on the rapid acceleration of solar, wind, and battery storage deployment on an increasing scale.

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Phil Dzikiy is an Editor/Writer with Electrek/9to5Mac. Tips: