How Much Renewable Energy Will Be Installed In 2030? 2040? 2050?

Ren21 — a global renewable energy policy multi-stakeholder network that connects governmental bodies, nonprofit organizations, industry associations, research institutes and universities, and members of civil society — recently conducted a massive, 75-page report on a large variety of potential renewable energy scenarios for the coming decades. The report, “REN21 Renewables Global Futures Report,” compares scenarios created by fossil fuel companies (like ExxonMobil and BP), leading nonprofit organizations (like Greenpeace and WWF), the International Energy Agency (IEA), and others. In total, Ren21 reviewed 51 different scenarios.

The report is very detailed, so it’s worth a close read by anyone who is very interested in the topic of renewable energy, or who is working in a relevant industry. But even for the common citizen, I think there are some key points to pull out of it (and of course some fund charts and graphs).

First of all, the key point is that there are massive differences between different scenarios or projections. As one would expect, those who benefit financially from keeping things closer to how they are right now (i.e. BP and ExxonMobil) created scenarios that projected much more limited renewable energy growth, while environmental organizations (i.e. Greenpeace and WWF) created scenarios that projected much more optimistic renewable energy growth.

renewable energy share projections

renewable energy shares

I think there are generally two key, overarching points to take away from the variety of scenarios:

  1. Policy choices have a humungous effect on what sort of world we create in the coming decades. Policy factors were the only assumptions that resulted in the scenario variations. Of course, there were many assumptions used in each study that had an effect on the results — technology advancements, consumer behavior, industry behavior, etc. But policy assumptions were one of the most important — probably the most important. And policy choices are up to us. They are up to citizens, and of course legislators.
  2. Scenario projections themselves are used to influence policy and the public. It may seem obvious, but it’s worth pointing out that the scenarios put out by BP, ExxonMobil, WWF, Greenpeace, etc., while they are simply based on different assumptions, are often aimed at influencing what the public and policymakers think can be done, should be done, or even will be done. They are tools used to advance certain goals.

With those two points in mind, I would just emphasize that the future is ours to make, and we should make it a clean and safe one.

Global warming and climate change pose a huge threat to human civilization and the human species, as well as countless other species. We could cook ourselves out of existence. Rather than do so, we can demand policies that will protect our climate (while also cleaning our air and water, creating jobs, improving our economy, and making our lives more convenient), or we can sit on our butts and let big fossil fuel companies control our governmental bodies in order to maximize their profits (at the expense of society as a whole).

The choice seems obvious, which is why I do what I do, but it’s clear that we need more people to share this sort of information, get involved in industries improving the world, and get involved in politics in a way that will also help lead us to the more logical future.

OK, that’s all I have as far as text goes. Here are some more charts, images, and tables from the report for your enjoyment and use:

renewable projections

global renewable transport shares

Share of biofuels in transport.

cleantech home

What your house could look like. 8 cleantech solutions.

renewable energy investment shares

us renewable energy scenarios

global renewable energy capacity scenarios

More resources related to the report are available on the Ren21 website. And here us a PDF version of the full report.

  • Kwazai

    Interesting read. What isn’t factored in is the actual low cost alternatives that haven’t taken off yet. Check glasspoint.com page for solar steam cost comparisons to natural gas. Solar steam is actually pretty inexpensive house size for a radiator/fan type hvac (crawlspace geothermal for cooling) (pex underfloor if the systems would warrant it).
    Chk the university of nebraska passive solar research pages and think what the addition of a PV/battery powered fan and a set of HVAC controls would do to the electrical grid monies flows that are currently geared towards hvac costs. What happens when the ‘developed’ countries peoples decide that urban farming is actually cheaper for most of what they need (rather than what’s corporate pushed/government pushed). Admittedly the money side of things seems easier at first with current availabilty proffered (the grid…). When you refactor some of the cost of alternate solar technologies (non grid hvac/hot water/etc. 49% or better of the bill) over the lifetime of a house(60 years of no electric bill for hvac etc) the ROI is pretty significant (most bank studies(mortgage electric bills) are 7 to 15 years (or were -might be 30 by now)).
    Food for thought anyway.
    Solar steam turbine? (in your own back yard?)

  • T Graves

    There’s new green energy technology and it’s ends the use for fossil fuels… Check it out http://igg.me/at/Hydro-Electric-Reactor

    • Matt

      Your link is dead.

  • Jonas Andersson

    How can anyone even make a Solar PV forecast to 2030 of only 490 GW?! That would mean that the market would stay at an average of 23 GW/year until 2030! Last year (when these forecasts were made) the installations totaled 30 GW. Did they even look at the historic development of PV sales? Stupid and ignorant people!

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Haha, agreed. :D

      Surely, they also still listen to cassette tapes, type on typewriters, and use rotary phones.

      • Jonas Andersson

        If the PV growth stay at 35% a year (actually it was over 40% for the last 5 years) we will have 23 TW (23,000 GW) installed by 2030. It is of course a siplification, but it shows what exponential growth really means, given enough time.

        • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

          + :D

  • STEAM MAN

    Henry Ford designed his original Model T to operate on FLEX FUELS but with WATER INJECTION for STEAM. It has totally been ignored since. OIL CAN BURN AS CLEAN AS RENEWABLE S ESPECIALLY NATURAL GAS, if processed to METHANOL IF STEAM IS APPLIED. ALL COMBUSTION ENGINES CREATE 1.4 GALLONS OF WATER PER GALLON OF FUEL BURNT, FROM THE AIR FUEL RATIO. OUR COMPANY RECYCLES THAT WATER TO MAKE STEAM IN CONVENTIONAL ENGINES, NEW OR USED. See http://www.aquahol-injection-inc.com

  • james braselton

    hi there solar cells were few watts per panel now you 600 watt pannel and 2 kw pannel wind turbines for houses reached 150 kw soo getting mower for cell or turbine soo 32 tw/h before 2054 oh 1 gw/h solar stalite being luanched soon by nasa

  • Kie

    Re Figure 4: With the advent of autonomous vehicles I think vehicle ownership will drop substantially in cities within a couple of decades. Hopefully autonomous cars AI will come along faster than voice recognition software did – another recognition technology that is taking a very long time to reach high reliability.

    I think we’ll be 90-100% renewables by 2050 including transport. Hopefully we’ll have some breakthroughs re clean hydrogen production.