The tipping point for renewable energy being cheaper than fossil fuels has been predicted for years. But all the signs are that it’s now here. Hold on tight.
The number of horses peaked in the United States when car ownership reached three percent of the market. Demand for gas lighting in the UK dropped off when electric lighting hit two percent. The use of landline phones fell once demand for mobiles passed five percent.
History has shown that tipping points occur when a new, disruptive technology reaches approximately three percent of the market. On Boxing Day 2020, wind power provided 50.7% of the UK’s energy needs for the first full 24-hour period ever. So the ‘tipping point’ for a transformation to a world powered by renewable energy – primarily wind and solar – is clearly well overdue.
It’s largely simple economics. ‘Big Oil’ is so nicknamed for good reason – it’s greased the wheels of life as we know it for a century and has become globally rich and powerful as a result.
Many predicted the tipping point would come when the scarcity of oil, coal and gas meant prices were driven up, making renewables affordable in comparison. But crucially, that’s not what is happening – renewables are just becoming much, much cheaper.
The costs of manufacturing and installing a wind turbine and a solar panel have tumbled faster and further than even the most optimistic expert projections. Battery storage is on a similar trajectory, and with it further cost benefits as it removes the inherent variability of renewables.
Political will is another key driving factor. PM Boris Johnson – who previously said wind farms couldn’t “pull the skin off a rice pudding” – now senses which way they’re blowing and wants to make the UK “the Saudi Arabia of wind” as part of a Green Industrial Revolution.
As my colleague Kat noted in her blog last week, the sale of petrol and diesel car sales is ending in 2030. But consumers are already responding with their wallets, causing an electric car sales boom last year in response to the increasing choice in models available. Jaguar – chariot of choice for chancellors and East End villains alike – has announced it will be an all-electric brand from 2025.
Again, simple economics are winning out. Bloomberg reports that vehicle battery packs have now fallen to the magic mark of $100 per kWh – a drop of 89% in a decade. This means that EVs can be sold as cheap or cheaper than their combustion equivalents.
In turn, cars will drive fundamental changes in how the energy to run them is made, transmitted and stored. For an utterly fascinating vision of our fossil-free four-wheeled future, watch this Top Gear interview with Graeme Cooper of National Grid.
Everything about the clean energy transition has happened far more quickly that predicted. Right now, there’s nothing to suggest that won’t continue to accelerate even more quickly, and is set to bring exciting changes to how we power our world.
The only things to slow it now are invested interests and a lack of political will. They need to get on board or get out of the way, or they might end up being run over.
Mike Cheshire is an account director at Camargue