Renewable energy and grid expansion
There are more than one billion people across the world who still do not have access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The total number of people has reportedly dropped by a third since the turn of the millennium, but there are still many who are missing out on all the benefits of electrification. Better education, healthcare, transport and much else relies on it, and we all deserve to live our best possible lives.
Traditional wisdom has it that the only way of expanding quickly enough to reach everyone is through the proliferation of fast burning fossil fuel facilities, mainly coal. The argument goes that we know how to throw these plants up rapidly and we already have much of the infrastructure in place to make the most of it – and until recently this argument has mostly held true. The best example of this is India, a gigantic landmass which only recently committed to electrifying all of its far flung villages to bring them into the modern world. This is being achieved through dozens of new, dirty coal burning power plants in order to provide electricity to 500 million people.
But is this really the case anymore? The IEA says that even those countries aiming to rapidly electrify are beginning to walk down a different road.
Coal has supplied the majority of progress in this regard since the year 2000, but its role is set to diminish massively. The report shows that another third of people who are currently without access to electricity will have it by 2030 and, of those people, 60% will be hooked up to renewable energy. This is set to be the case for two principle reasons.
Firstly, the cost of renewable energy is falling faster than even the most positive projections could have imagined. Not only are wind and solar power proliferating at a jaw dropping rate, other more experimental technologies such as tidal lagoon power and biomass are maturing rapidly. This means that there are more options on the market, and this is pushing prices down. It is simply not economically viable to get heavily into coal anymore, despite what some of the more regressive members of the global community might believe. Simple economic facts are sounding the death knell for coal in particular and replacing it with clean alternatives.
Secondly, the many people who have been given the gift of electricity since the year 2000 were in some ways the low hanging fruit. It makes sense that the easiest places to reach would be the first to have the lights switched on. Now though, the people who need it are in harder to reach places and running longer and longer power lines to more and more remote places probably isn’t the easiest thing to do. The IEA has assessed that many places which currently don’t have electricity would be more suited to renewable energy solutions such as an integrated solar and wind powered system. For instance, it makes more sense to rely on solar power in sub-Saharan Africa than it does to import lots of coal.
It is predicted that the share of new electricity will be at least 60% renewable by 2030, and in all likelihood this will end up being a conservative estimate. The world is finally waking up to the dangers of elongating the fossil fuel age unnecessarily and taking steps to fix the problem. One of the most remarkable things about human beings is that we collectively have the ability to accelerate our own progress, and it is likely that the current snowball effect we are witnessing with renewable energy will only become more pronounced.
Now is the time to embrace the future and invest in renewable technology. There are people out there who persist with fantasies about reviving coal, but the economic reality will eventually become apparent even to them. The trends are clear and we are heading into a renewable future. This is the chance to get in at the ground floor of the planet’s entire energy grid changing, so don’t miss out.