A new study published in the journal Nature Energy has found that electricity could become the cheapest energy source by 2050, fundamentally changing the current shares in energy consumption from climate-damaging fossil fuels to renewable electric sources.
Today, 80 percent of energy demands for industry, heating buildings, and mobility are met by burning fossil fuels, and only 20 percent by electricity.
“Our research finds that relation can be pretty much reversed by 2050, making the easy-to-decarbonize electricity the mainstay of global energy supply,” said study lead author Gunnar Luderer, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and a professor of Global Energy Systems Analysis at the Technical University of Berlin.
While for a long period, fossil fuels were much cheaper and accessible energy sources than electricity, the prices for solar electricity fell by 80 percent in the past decade.
“This development has the potential to fundamentally revolutionize energy systems. Our computer simulations show that together with global carbon pricing, green electricity can become the cheapest form of energy by 2050, and supply up to three quarters of all demand,” explained Luderer.
The reason for this significant drop in pricing lies in the groundbreaking technological progress in solar and wind power generation, as well as in the fact that increasingly more energy demands can be electrified, including cars, heating systems, or steel production.
“All in all, we find that more than half of all energy demand from industry can be electrified by 2050,” said study co-author Silvia Maddedu, a researcher at PIK.
According to scientists, this increased use of electricity as an energy source will be crucial for mitigating climate change and maintaining sustainable temperature values. However, curbing fossil fuel use remains highly important for achieving these goals.
“The era of electricity will come either way. But only sweeping regulation of fossil fuels across sectors and world regions – most importantly some form of carbon pricing – can ensure it happens in due time to reach 1.5 degrees,” said Luderer.
In order to meet the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, decisive and global political coordination in pricing carbon, scrapping levies on electricity, expanding grid infrastructures, and redesigning electricity markets are urgently needed.
“If these elements come together, the prospects of a renewables-based green energy future look truly electrifying,” concluded Luderer.