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September 13, 2022

The Untapped Potential of Solar Energy - Net-Zero

The conversation around climate change and renewable energy has been dominated by pessimistic outlooks and daunting challenges. However, a recent study by the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC)  offers a more optimistic view. The study suggests that the rapid advancements in solar technology and energy storage could make a net-zero future more attainable than we think.

The Falling Costs of Solar and Storage

One of the most striking findings of the MCC study is the dramatic reduction in the cost of solar power and energy storage over the past decade. Batteries now cost less than $100 per kilowatt-hour, a figure significantly lower than what was predicted for 2030. Additionally, the cost of solar energy has plummeted by 87%, and battery storage costs have decreased by 85% in the last ten years. These falling prices are making renewable energy solutions increasingly viable.

Underestimating Renewable Energy

According to the study, existing climate models have consistently underestimated the potential of renewable energy, particularly solar power. While a 2019 study estimated that solar energy would contribute 20 to 50 exajoules per year globally by 2050, experts in solar technology now believe that the figure could be as high as 125 to 350 exajoules per year.

The Power of Granular Technologies

The study also highlights the importance of 'granular technologies' like heat pumps, lighting, appliances, windows, and batteries. These technologies are more easily adopted and improved upon because they involve lower risks and can be applied in a variety of contexts. As a result, they show faster innovation dynamics, which has been underestimated in existing climate models.

Real-World Challenges

Despite the optimistic outlook, there are still challenges to overcome. These include a lack of qualified labour, the need for infrastructure upgrades, land availability, and fluctuating policies. However, the renewable energy sector continues to grow, often outpacing projections.

The Need for Updated Models

The MCC study calls for a new generation of climate models that better represent the rapid advancements in technology. These models should provide policymakers with more accurate information, reflecting real-world dynamics and the economics of innovation.

The MCC study serves as a wake-up call for policymakers and the public alike. It suggests that a net-zero future is not just a pipe dream but a feasible reality, thanks to the rapid advancements in solar technology and energy storage. While challenges remain, the falling costs and faster innovation dynamics indicate that we are on the right path. It's time to adjust our models and expectations to match the promising reality of renewable energy. To read more on this topic, Utility Drive created a great round-up of the information within this study, or you can read the original study by MCC.

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