This week, BP published Energy Outlook 2017, their best prediction for the period to 2035. A key judgement is that rapid improvements in the competitiveness of renewable energy mean that increases in renewables, together with nuclear and hydro energy, will provide around half of the increase in global energy in the next twenty years.
The Energy Outlook, which considers the key trends and forces likely to shape global energy markets over the next twenty years, predicts that renewables will account for forty per cent of the growth in global power generation. This will cause the renewables’ share of total global power to increase from seven per cent in 2015 to twenty per cent by 2035. The bulk of this increase will be in Asia where China alone will be the largest source of growth and is projected to add more renewable power than the US and the EU combined.
(It is worth remembering that in the late 1980s it was the environmentalists who led the protests against their then communist governments on the grounds that their rulers were flouting the very environmental standards which they themselves had endorsed. The political point is not lost on the communist government of China.)
There are hard economics at work here too. The cost of solar power is predicted to continue to fall, though the rapidly declining costs of PV modules means that their cost accounts for a decreasing share of the overall costs of solar installation. But the analysis also suggests that onshore wind will remain more competitive than solar energy in both the US and the Chinese power sectors. Use of both will increase significantly. Indeed, renewables, nuclear and hydroelectric power are projected to supply more than half of China’s increasing energy demands from now to 2035.
An important revision in Outlook 2017 by comparison with Outlook 2016, is an increase of fifteen per cent in the forecast figure for the use of renewables in the fuel mix. That is a significant revision and the largest revision in percentage terms. It in turn leads to a downward revision of nearly four per cent in the estimate for carbon emissions in 2035.
These are the “best guess “assumptions. But, of course, varying the basic assumptions causes sometimes striking variations to the overall projections. One critical assumption concerns the speed of transition to a lower-carbon economy. Speeding up the transition has a marked impact on fuel shares. In a faster transition, the use of renewables, with nuclear and hydropower, overtakes the use of oil by 2035. In an “even faster” scenario they exceed the use of oil and coal combined, though in both cases oil and gas still provide around half of the world’s energy, with shale gas and LNG showing somewhat unexpected resilience.