The Path to Drawdown: Hydroelectric, Solar, and Wind
To fight climate change and remain below 1.5ºC of global warming, the world’s electricity source needs to switch from fossil fuels to 100% emissions free sources by 2050. Hydro, solar, and wind are some of the electricity sources leading this transition.
Hydropower electricity generation accounts for 44.5% of global electricity. Next to solar and wind, hydropower is the third-largest (p. 45) energy source in the clean electricity mix.
According to the IEA, hydropower capacity additions need to accelerate significantly to reach the Sustainable Development Scenario level.
- <::marker> 4,333 TWh of hydropower electricity generated in 2019
- <::marker> 5,722 TWh needed by 2030
- <::marker> CAGR of 2.82% from 2019-2030
Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels are the predominant way of capturing the sun's energy and converting it into electricity. The industry has been growing fast and solar panels are now the cheapest source of electricity in most places on earth as of 2020.
Solar produces ~2% of global electricity today. According to Project Drawdown, to be on track to remain under 1.5ºC of warming, utility scale solar will have to generate a combined ~26% of global electricity by 2050.
To get there, the PV solar industry needs to keep scaling over the few next decades:
- <::marker> 720 TWh of solar electricity generated in 2019
- <::marker> 28,200 TWh needed by 2050
- <::marker> CAGR of 12.56% from 2019 - 2050
Analysis from the IEA similarly forecasts that, to reach a 100% clean electricity grid by 2050, annual solar panel manufacturing capacity will need to scale from 134 GWs in 2020 to 630 GWs in 2030 (p. 74).
Onshore wind turbines account for 4.36% of global electricity generation in 2020.
Global wind capacity has risen steadily by around 20% per year for the past decade. Thanks to this expansion, the cost of electricity generated from onshore wind continues to fall, even in areas with low wind speeds.
According to Project Drawdown, to be on a path to remain under 1.5C° of warming, onshore wind turbines will need to be generating a combined 26.85% of global electricity by 2050.
To get there, the onshore wind industry will need to continue to scale over the next few decades
- <::marker> 1,150 TWh of onshore wind electricity generated in 2018
- <::marker> 19,460 TWh needed by 2050
- <::marker> CAGR of 9.38% from 2019 - 2050
The IEA forecasts (p. 74) that, to reach a 100% clean electricity grid by 2050, annual onshore wind capacity additions will have to increase from 109 GWs in 2020 to 310 GWs in 2030.
Importance of Utility Companies
Electric utilities play an fundamental role in the path to a decarbonized energy system. They are the lynchpin between key Drawdown solutions: renewable energy generation and energy storage. Through long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs), utilities enable renewable energy developers to secure buyers for their power and unlock project finance. Utility companies also control electrical grids, putting them in the position to prioritize (or deprioritize) the extent to which the grid is outfitted for the intermittency of solar and wind power generation. They also are key players in greenlighting the development of large-scale energy storage.
There are dozens of investor-owned utilities traded on the New York stock exchange (such as Duke, NextEra, Dominion, Xcel, PG&E, etc.), and many of them are purchasing or developing renewable power capacities to provide clean electricity to customers across large regions. We use a stringent criteria to determine which utilities are significantly contributing to the low-carbon energy transition.