Is Renewable Energy set to be the World’s Main Power Source by 2040?

According to BP, renewable energy sources will be the world’s main source of power within the next two decades. The UK based oil company said that renewable energy sources are establishing a foothold in the global energy system faster than any fuel in history. They forecast wind, solar and other renewables will account for an estimated 30% of the world’s electricity supplies by 2040 up from 25% in their estimates last year and about 10% today.

They think the figure will be even higher in regions such as Europe reaching 50% by 2040. In it’s annual energy outlook BP said that the speed of growth was unparalleled. The report’s central scenario says that oil took almost 45 years to go from 1% of global energy to 10% and gas more than 50 years while renewables are expected to do so within 25 years.

Should there be an even faster shift to a low carbon economy that period could be reduced to just 15 years. BP said that this would be ‘’literally off the charts’ in comparison to historical shifts.

According to official data more than half of the electricity used in the UK last year was generated from low carbon energy sources. The government’s annual review of energy statistics revealed that the rapid rise in renewable energy together with low carbon electricity from nuclear reactors accounted for almost 53% of generation in 2018.

The UK’s capacity to generate power from the sun, wind, water and waste grew by 10% setting a new record by meeting a third of the UK’s power generation.

As the UK undertakes more renewable energy projects and shuts down old, polluting coal plants the government has been able to confirm a string of green energy records that have been broken in recent years.

Earlier this year the National Grid said that the UK had recorded its greenest ever winter due to windy weather and dwindling coal-fired power.

This came after the second greenest summer, which fell narrowly short of the 2017 record for renewable energy due to a long heatwave. Interestingly, very hot weather can have a negative impact on renewable energy generation because high pressure weather systems can suppress wind speeds, and solar panels produce less electricity if temperatures climb too high.

As the renewable energy industry has grown it has edged out coal and gas plants which together made up less than 45% of the UK’s electricity last year.

Gas generation made up 39.5% of the generation mix last year falling from 40.4% in 2017. On top of that, after the Eggborough coal plant shut down and Drax converted one of its units to burn biomass instead, coal generation fell to 5.1% last year.

SSE have announced plans to shut its last coal plant at Fiddlers Ferry near Warrington, Cheshire, in March 2020 which leaves only five coal plants left running by the end of the coming winter.

Emma Pinchbeck, the deputy chief executive of Renewable UK, said:

 “The record-breaking figures clearly show that investment in renewables and the government’s championing of offshore wind is delivering rapid change to our energy system”.

She also said:

“As well as helping keep prices down for consumers and boosting the competitiveness of our businesses, renewables are a huge economic opportunity, bringing employment and investment to all parts of the UK.”

The UK government promised developers the chance to compete for a share of £557m of state subsidies in exchange for industry investment in the offshore wind sector over the next 11 years.

This deal could see offshore wind grow to 30% of the UK’s electricity by 2030 as the UK endeavours to reach the 2050 target to cut emissions from the economy to net zero.

Unfortunately, ministers are currently refusing to lift the block on support for new onshore wind farms which are unable to compete for subsidies although they are one of the cheapest forms of electricity.

Emma Pinchbeck said:

 “To achieve its net zero ambitions, the new government needs to go further and faster – and the first steps should be removing the barriers to onshore wind which is our cheapest source of power, and building on our successes in innovative technologies like tidal energy and floating wind where the UK can be a world leader.”

An exciting milestone has been reached by Britain, for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, Britain is obtaining more power from zero-carbon sources than fossil fuels.


However, BP sees a “major role” for hydrocarbons on a worldwide basis until 2040, which it says will require substantial investment. It forecasts global demand for oil and gas to be 80-130 million barrels per day by then, up from around 100mb/d today.

This does not bode well for avoiding dangerous levels of global warming. The central scenario presented by BP expects carbon emissions to grow 10% by 2040, as world energy demand grows by a third and fossil fuels continue to play a key role.

Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive, said:

“Meeting the challenge of providing more energy while cutting emissions would undoubtedly require many forms of energy to play a role”.

The company said it expected growth in renewables to be driven by government policies, technological change and the falling costs of wind and solar power.

Renewables are expected to grow by 7.1% each year over the next two decades, eventually displacing coal as the world’s top source of power by 2040.

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