This research is backed by the UK Government’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, as well as the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), under the umbrella of the Economics of Energy Innovation and System Transition (EEIST) project.
Dr. Femke Nijsse of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute noted that the acceleration of renewables indicates a significant shift in energy paradigms. “The recent progress of renewables means that projections dominated by fossil fuels are outdated,” she remarked.
Highlighting the shift in the understanding of innovation, she added, “There’s an ongoing, beneficial cycle between the deployment of technologies and the increasing affordability of these implementations. This cycle illustrates the rapid solar growth in recent years and projects its expansion in the future.”
However, the research also brings to light several challenges that might stymie the growth of solar energy:
Solar power generation is intrinsically variable, influenced by daily changes, seasonal shifts, and unpredictable weather. Nijsse commented on the need for robust solutions, stating, “Without mechanisms to address this variability, there’s a risk of reverting to fossil fuels.” Resilience can be built by diversifying with other renewable sources, developing inter-regional transmission cables, augmenting electricity storage capacities, and crafting policies to manage consumption patterns, she suggested.Access to finance remains a significant hurdle. While solar’s growth is tethered to the availability of funds, the focus of low-carbon finance is predominantly on affluent nations. Dr. Nadia Ameli from UCL’s Institute for Sustainable Resources weighed in on this financial aspect: “Though global renewable costs have seen a notable decline, challenges persist, particularly for nations striving to secure capital on fair terms. Ensuring appropriate financing is paramount to expedite the global shift away from carbon.”The impending solar-driven future brings along its set of demands, especially concerning supply chains. An increasing reliance on solar and related technologies means a heightened demand for essential minerals such as lithium, copper, nickel, and cobalt. As nations hasten their decarbonisation initiatives, these materials’ demand is set to skyrocket.
Lastly, the transition might face opposition from sectors experiencing decline due to the solar shift. A swift move towards solar could potentially affect the livelihoods of nearly 13 million people globally, currently anchored in the fossil fuel sector and its dependent industries.
The researchers emphasized that tailored policies addressing these challenges could have a more pronounced impact on advancing the clean energy transition than conventional tools like carbon taxes.
The study, titled “The momentum of the solar energy transition,” is featured in Nature Communications. Though a diverse range of institutions have contributed to the EEIST project, the expressed views predominantly belong to the authors and don’t necessarily echo the stances of the UK government, CIFF, or other affiliated organizations.
On a related note, the University of Exeter is gearing up to release the first-ever Global Tipping Points Report during the upcoming COP28, which promises an in-depth examination of climate tipping points and viable strategies to mitigate the escalating climate crisis.