From Singularity University’s 2018 Summit, Ramez Naam recaps how far we’ve come and where we’re headed with renewables. It’s a collision of exponential technologies, policy, and economics that continue to erode costs and accelerate adoption for solar wind and storage. The first half focuses on the exponential growth in renewable energy. The second part mirrors Tony Seba’s perspective on transportation where automation, electrification, and on-demand transport stack up to disrupt the way we move people (and things) around.

Despite their best efforts, analysts continue to underestimate the rates of adoption because they expect the future to behave like the past, making forward projections linear. That makes the future deceptively unpredictable. In 2000, The IEA (International Energy Agency) predicted 50GW of installed solar by 2030. We are already at 450GW in 2018 and the analysts have updated their linear forecasts every year to try to keep track of the exponential reality.

Some of the headline stats…

Renewables are now

Wind Energy

US onshore wind contracts dropped 15X from 57c/kWh in 1980 to 4c in 2016 (2c with subsidy). Now it’s competitive with the $0.06USD/kWh benchmark for new coal and gas.

And this is happening everywhere… Morocco 2.8c, Brazil 2c, Mexico 2c/kWh.

German offshore wind prices declined 4X in 9y with 3 subsidy-free projects being agreed in 2017.

The first commercial-scale offshore wind project in the US will deliver 800MW to Massachusetts at 6.55c/kWh

Solar

Solar panel prices dropped 250X from $77/W in 1977 to 30c in 2017.

Indian solar contracts halved twice in 4 years (a 4X decline to 2017) to 3.8c/kWh in 2017.

Again, this is happening around the world:  Colorado 3.9c, Mexico 2.5c, Abu Dhabi 2.4c, Chile 2.15c/kWh (one third the price of new coal/gas).

Solar adoption grow 50X in 10 years with 400GW in 2017.

Storage

Solar and wind are counter-cyclical (sun during day / summer, wind during night / winter) and can provide 70% or energy consumed. But to go beyond, we need better storage.

The price of lithium-ion batteries dropped from $1000/kWh in 2010 to $209/kWh in 2017

Batteries are following the same price-reduction curve as solar did, with a 20-25% cost reduction for every doubling of scale.

The US DoE 2013 forecast a one-third decrease in battery prices over 30 years. Tesla managed a 75% decrease by 2017.

As well as lithium-ion batteries, there are a dozen other storage technologies like SaltX’s molten salt batteries.

A company called ESS produces all-ion flow batteries that can undergo 20,000 cycles (compared to 1,000 for lithium-ion) making them a decades-long asset that drastically reduces the LCOE.

The road ahead

There’s still a long way to go and the decarbonisation of the energy industry is still a decades-long project. But we’re in the midst of an inflection point and with the right mix of economics, policy, and technology, we’ll accelerate the transition and shift to a fossil-free energy within a generation.

The stone age didn’t end because of a lack of stone – Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani