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How Fast Can Solar And Wind Grow

Solar Power

Wind and solar energy consumption have grown quickly from 1994 to 2014. Based on data from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2015 the growth rate has been 25 percent per year combined. Historical data on oil consumption from 1900 to 1975 shows that oil use grew by about 7 percent per year over that period. Note that this rate of growth was constrained by demand for energy as evidenced by very low oil prices from 1950 to 1972 and the high rates of oil consumption growth from 1960 to 1970. World GDP and population grew rapidly over that period before supply constraints became apparent and rates of oil consumption growth slowed markedly after 1979.

(Click to enlarge)

The scenarios above cover a range of possibilities with the lowest representing growth in Wind and solar output at 7 percent per year from 2016 to 2070, the middle scenario was chosen to end at about midway between the low and high scenarios in 2070 with a simple exponential increase of 8.4 percent per year. Related: OPEC Head Calls for $65 Oil

The high scenario uses separate scenarios for wind and solar over the 2015 to 2030 period which are then added together. Wind grew at an annual rate of 22 percent from 2001 to 2013 and solar grew by 45 percent per year from 2004 to 2014.

The high scenario assumes that wind grows by 10 percent per year from 2015 to 2030 and that solar grows at a variable annual rate starting at 36 percent per year in 2015 and decreasing in rate each year by 2 percent until 2027, then growth continues at 12 percent per year until 2030.

The combined rate of growth of wind and solar is 11 percent from 2029 to 2030. I assume this growth rate continues for a decade, then the annual growth rate falls to 10 percent/year in 2041 and to 9 percent per year in 2051. In 2056 the rate of growth begins to slow as most energy is provided by wind and solar at that point, it is assumed that demand becomes a constraint on further wind and solar consumption. Related: Depreciating Dollar Sees Crude Climb To 7-Month High

I believe the low scenario is too pessimistic because there will be plenty of demand for wind and solar as costs fall, while the cost of fossil fuels rises so that switching will be economically attractive. The high scenario is likely too optimistic, as there will be technical barriers which may prove difficult to overcome and there may be efficiency gains that I have not accounted for, which may result in lower demand growth. I have assumed 1.4 percent per year growth in primary energy demand from 2015 to 2070 (the 2005 to 2014 rate of growth) which would lead to energy consumption of 28,000 Mtoe/year in 2070.

Bottom line, reality will fall somewhere between the low and high scenarios, if there is not a World economic collapse (equal to or worse than the Great Depression) between 2015 and 2070. Note that a Global Financial Crisis (GFC) similar to 2008 to 2010 is certainly possible, if not likely, but wise economic policy using Keynesian principles can stabilize the World economy.

By Dennis Coyne via Peakoilbarrel.com

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  • David Fuchs on May 26 2016 said:
    "solar grows at a variable annual rate starting at 36 percent per year in 2015 and decreasing in rate each year by 2 percent until 2027, then growth continues at 12 percent "

    I think the numbers for solar growth are a "little off", by a little off, I mean total fantasy land. Every Government forecast, every business forecast, and every forecast I have done, has been decimated by the true growth rate of solar. Some reports I have seen have been wrong on the cents/kWh by the time they were publish. If you look at forecasts from 5 years ago, the same thing is said each time, the growth will slow down next year and the years after also. Each time the numbers have been blown away by the reality.

    Simply put, if you do not forecast the trends out based on a moving average of years before, you get the crap that was posted in this article. Which is nothing more than guess work. Even posting out using Moving Averages, your numbers are always below what actually occurs.
  • JHM on May 27 2016 said:
    Yes, basically solar and wind can grow as fast as economic demand suppress it. There are very few geological or environmental constraints on the supply of wind and solar equipment, nothing like those constraints on fossil fuels. It is based on manufacturing and technology which will continue to drive down cost and scale up supply for the foreseeable future.

    I would also point out that over the last decade wind and solar have transitioned from mostly being above parity pricing with conventional energy to mostly below parity. So in last decade, these renewables were much more dependent on subsidies and other forms of government support, but in the next decade, it is a totally different ball game. Wind and solar will absolutely dominate on price alone. So I have every expectation that solar and wind will grow even fast than we have seen until the market for new energy is saturated. Once renewables push fossil out of the new energy markets, their demand will be constrained only by demand for new energy. But to the extent that they are bringing lower cost energy to market, they will also address a much wider market than conventional energy was able to. For example, about 1.2 billion people live without grid power. Affordable distributed solar and batteries are tapping this market in ways that large scale grids and coal power never could, not in the last hundred years. This ability to leapfrog the grid could accelerate economic growth around the planet, but it will be economic growth predicated on cheap renewables, not scarce and polluting fossils. So the growth of renewables in developing countries is what we really need to be focused on. Most of the developing world could see double digit economic growth, if energy were cheap enough. In such economies, growth in demand for renewables can be well in excess of 30% per year for decades to come.

    So keep your eye on renewables in non-OECD countries. Renewables will accelerate in the developing world, and fossils will begin to decline in just a few years.
  • Lee James on May 27 2016 said:
    Forecasting this stuff is not easy. I find this article interesting in part because it is authored by someone who usually gets into the nitty gritty of petroleum extraction. We do need to shift over to what is going on with alternatives to burning fossil fuel.

    Chief among the variables that are difficult to predict is government regulation. But if you look at trends in regulation, along with trends in renewable energy growth, you know sumpins up in the world of fossil fuel burning.
  • Scottar on August 17 2016 said:
    Renewables have been ramping only due to the hype they are green, will solve climate change, are grossly oversubsidized and mandated. Renewable growth is significantly slowing down in the EU as they discover they really arn’t cost effective:


    Germany & Australia Green Energy Debacles: A Cautionary Tale for America


    Suddenly, the Solar Boom Is Starting to Look like a Bubble


    The Fossil Fuel Subsidy Red Herring


    Germany’s “Energiewende” Leading To Suicide By Cannibalism. Huge Oversupply Risks Destabilization


    Despite Huge Investments, Renewable Energy Isn’t Winning


    Windswept Denmark Says Wind Energy Has Become Too Expensive

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