Decarbonising the global energy system by around 2050 could save the world at least $12 trillion, according to a new study.

Described by Oxford University researchers as a ‘win-win-win scenario’, the research found that rapidly transitioning to clean energy would result in lower energy system costs than a fossil fuel system, while providing more energy to the global economy and expanding energy access to more people internationally.

The study’s ‘fast transition’ scenario shows a realistic possible future for a fossil-free energy system by around 2050, the researchers said, providing 55% more ‘energy services’ compared to today. This would be accomplished by ramping up solar, wind, batteries, electric vehicles, and clean fuels such as green hydrogen made from renewable electricity.

Nuclear energy does not play a significant role in the plans however, with the team highlighting rising costs over the last five decades, making it ‘highly unlikely’ to be cost-competitive with plunging renewable and storage costs.

“Past models predicting high costs for transitioning to zero carbon energy have deterred companies from investing, and made governments nervous about setting policies that will accelerate the energy transition and cut reliance on fossil fuels. But clean energy costs have fallen sharply over the last decade, much faster than those models expected,” said lead author Dr Rupert Way, postdoctoral researcher at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

“Our latest research shows scaling up key green technologies will continue to drive their costs down, and the faster we go, the more we will save. Accelerating the transition to renewable energy is now the best bet, not just for the planet, but for energy costs too.”

The researchers analysed thousands of cost scenarios produced by major energy models, and used data on 45 years of solar energy costs, 37 years of wind energy costs and 25 years of battery storage. They found the real cost of solar energy dropped twice as fast as the most ambitious projections in these models, revealing that over the last 20 years previous models badly overestimated the future costs of key clean energy technologies.

“There is a pervasive misconception that switching to clean, green energy will be painful, costly and mean sacrifices for us all – but that’s just wrong,” said Professor Doyne Farmer, who led the team that conducted the study.

“Renewable costs have been trending down for decades. They are already cheaper than fossil fuels in many situations, and our research shows they will become cheaper than fossil fuels across almost all applications in the years to come. And, if we accelerate the transition, they will become cheaper faster. Completely replacing fossil fuels with clean energy by 2050 will save us trillions.”

The costs for key storage technologies, such as batteries and hydrogen electrolysis, are also likely to fall dramatically according to the study.

Extracted from IMechE website - read more here

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