Coal power could be dying for good — here’s the evidence

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The Belwind Wind Farm near Ostend, Belgium. GE Renewable Energy

Today, coal accounts for over 40% of the world’s electricity production.

But within 10 years, coal as an energy source will peak and then decline. At the same time, cleaner sources, like solar and wind, will become cheap enough to surpass it.

That’s the takeaway from the 2017 Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) Outlook, an annual report that makes long-term economic forecasts about the world’s power sector. The report, which looks at how fuel and electricity markets will evolve by 2040, estimates that renewable energy is taking hold globally faster than many energy experts believe.

Here are some key findings from the BNEF Outlook:

  • Global power demand will grow by 58% between now and 2040 (or 2% annually)
  • Within four years, solar will be cheaper than coal globally
  • Global coal-fired power generation will peak in 2026
  • Wind and solar plants will start to encroach on the business of existing coal plants
  • By 2040, 34% of electricity will come from wind and solar and the levelized cost of offshore wind (i.e. the average total cost to build and operate over its lifetime) will decline by 71%
  • By 2040, rooftop solar will account for as much as 24% of electricity generation in Australia, 20% in Brazil, 15% in Germany, 12% in Japan, and 5% in the US and India
  • Renewables will get $US7.4 trillion in new global power plant investment between now and 2040
  • Wind and solar will make up nearly half of the world’s installed generation capacity by 2040

The report also notes that while greenhouse-gas emissions from the global power sector will likely peak in 2026, the rate of decline (approximately 1%) is not nearly enough to battle climate change in a serious way.

By 2040, the world needs an additional $US5.3 trillion that generates 3.9 terrwatts of zero-carbon capacity (the maximum possible electricity output globally) to stop the planet from warming two degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels — which scientists say is the point of no return for runaway climate change.

Despite President Trump’s plans to expand oil pipelines and withdraw the US from the Paris climate Agreement, the report suggests that no one can stop the global progression of renewable energy.

Within three decades, solar and wind power is set to put fossil fuels out of business.

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