A major part of achieving net-zero before 2050 is being able to decarbonize power generation – and make the transition to 100% clean, affordable and reliable energy.
Why? Because emissions from fossil-fuel power generation account for 31% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).
This transition has started – and is happening at pace. Over 100 cities around the world are now getting at least 70% of their electricity from renewable sources such as hydro, geothermal, solar and wind. A surge in demand for clean energy – from companies, governments, cities and citizens – is being met with a sea-change in the market competitiveness of wind and solar power, coupled with electricity storage solutions and other key technological innovations.
We have all the technologies available today – particularly in renewables – we simply need to scale them faster. This transition ensures that rapidly growing demand for electricity – driven by the switch to electric vehicles and the increased electrification of industrial processes such as steel making – is met with clean energy.
The pathway is clear: by 2030, 65% of total global electricity consumption should be from renewable sources, and by 2050 or sooner 100% of electricity should be from zero-carbon sources.
But to achieve this, we need to do more, be more ambitious and make changes more quickly.
The good news is rapidly declining prices have seen renewables become cheaper than grid electricity in key markets including China and the US, as renewable energy grows into an increasingly unsubsidized power source.
Global solar capacity grew faster than all fossil fuels combined, including coal, oil and gas-fired power stations, for the first time in 2017. And renewables accounted for almost two-thirds of net new power capacity around the world in 2016.
The signals of change we see today show that – if the rate of change continues, if we continue to do more, faster, we can achieve a fully decarbonized energy system around the world sooner than 2050.
You can delve into the power system below to see how it’s being transformed. Or simply click Take Action to see how business leaders and policy makers can help to create the zero-carbon power system of the future.TAKE ACTION
The zero-carbon power tipping point
In several countries, we have recently passed a significant tipping point – that point where cost parity is achieved between carbon-emitting generation and renewables. This tipping point marks the moment when it is cheaper to generate solar and wind energy than coal and gas.
Solar sees remarkable cost decline
The cost of renewables has seen a remarkable drop – electricity from utility-scale solar PV fell 73% between 2010-2017. Solar is now ‘cheaper than grid electricity’ in every Chinese city, one study finds.
The market takes over
When unsubsidized renewables have matured to the point where they are cheaper than fossil fuel power, the transition to a net-zero carbon power system is accelerated by market forces. No longer is the argument philosophical, it is driven by economics.
Divestment movement gathers pace
The funds committed to fossil fuel divestment now total more than $11 trillion, with almost 1,110 institutional investors pledging to act, and a growing number of leading pension funds divesting from fossil fuels, including the New York City pension fund.
+40 power utilities commit to action
Globally, over 40 power utilities have committed to bold climate action, with over 20 companies committing to set science-based targets. A growing number of these have committed to set targets to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, including Ørsted, Iberdrola and NRG Energy.
Xcel Energy commits to carbon-free power
One of the major US utilities – Xcel Energy – is committed to fully decarbonizing and serving customers with 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 as well as reducing carbon emissions 80% by 2030 company-wide.
Tata Power stops building coal plants
In India, Tata Power, India’s largest private integrated power company, is to cease building new coal-based generation projects, shifting to renewable power sources. Simultaneously, a quarter of planned coal-fired power stations were canceled in India in the first half of 2018.
Ørsted all in on clean energy
In Europe, Ørsted, the largest utility in Denmark, transformed its entire business model to become a clean energy company and is committed to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensity from energy production by 96% by 2023, accounting for more than half of the entire country’s CO2 reduction since 2006
Polish utility focuses on renewables
Poland’s state-run utility Tauron plans to replace most of its coal-burning power plants with renewable sources in the coming decade to adjust to EU climate policies and secure future financing.
Capacity additions dominated by renewables
Between 2010-2016 more than twice as much power generating capacity from renewables was added globally than fossil fuels – 2017 was a record year with 157 gigawatts of renewable power commissioned.
Business harnesses clean power
Corporate customers are demanding clean energy as the best and most affordable way to power business growth and cut their own carbon emissions.
RE100 helps drive the renewable switch
Companies like Walmart, Danone and Apple are demanding 100% clean energy. More than 215 of the world’s most influential companies have committed to source 100% renewable electricity through the RE100 initiative. RE100 members are equivalent to the 21st largest electricity consumer in the World – using more electricity than South Africa.
REscale brings clean energy collaboration
Clean energy buyers and sellers are coming together to help meet the growing demand for renewables. REscale connects supply and demand to create tangible business opportunities and has led to new renewable energy deals. In 2017, power purchase agreements signed by WBCSD member companies increased 54%.
REBA unlocks US energy market
In the US, the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA) connects over 200 large energy buyers with over 150 clean energy developers and service providers that, together with NGO partners, are unlocking the US marketplace for all non-residential energy buyers to lead a rapid transition to a cleaner, prosperous, zero-carbon energy future.
Governments embrace renewables
Governments around the world are harnessing the opportunity of rapid renewables deployment to ensure safe and reliable access to energy while protecting the health of their citizens.
Countries prove 100% clean energy is possible
The scale of change is dramatic. There are already seven countries at or very near 100% renewable power grids. These are: Iceland (100 percent), Paraguay (100), Costa Rica (99), Norway (98.5), Austria (80), Brazil (75), and Denmark (69.4).
Pathways to 100% renewable power
More countries are setting out pathways to be 100% renewable by 2050 – assisted by researchers at Stanford University, who have plotted out clear roadmaps for 139 nations to transition to 100% renewables by 2050.
India set to exceed renewable targets
India is increasing its target for renewable energy capacity to 227 GW by 2022 because the country is well on its way to exceeding its previous target of 175 GW. This would be nearly three times the 77.5 GW installed renewable capacity in 2018.
Powering Past Coal Alliance
More than 20 countries, including the UK, Canada, France, Finland and Mexico are part of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, committing to phase out existing coal-fired power stations and place a moratorium on new ones.
Cities step up in renewable switch
In the United States, more than 80 cities and five counties have committed to 100% renewables. Six cities have already hit the target, according to the Sierra Club. And four states are committed to switching to 100% renewable electricity – California, New Jersey, Hawaii and Nevada.
Germany sets end date for coal phase-out
Germany’s coal exit commission has agreed that the country should end coal-fired power generation by 2038, with an option to end it by 2035.
Rising public awareness
Climate Strikes, radical activism, public opinion, TV & film and social media all demonstrate feelings of impotence and anger at the slow speed of change. For many citizens, it’s personal because they are concerned for their own health. Pollution from coal-fired power-stations and car exhaust pollution – is literally killing people.
Health problems linked to coal power
Air pollution from coal-fired power plants is linked with asthma, cancer, heart and lung ailments, neurological problems, acid rain, global warming, and other severe environmental and public health impacts, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
China suffers ‘airpocalypse’
In 2012, more than 1 million people reportedly died from air pollution in China. When a thick smog gripped the country in January 2013, the air pollution was so bad it was called an “airpocalypse”.
The impact of deteriorating air quality
Arvind Kumar, a chest surgeon at New Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, has a ringside view of the toll that northern India’s deteriorating air quality is taking on its residents. When he started practicing 30 years ago, some 80 to 90% of his lung cancer patients were smokers. But in the past six years, half of Dr Kumar’s lung cancer patients have been non-smokers.
Citizens bear the impact
To Dr Kumar, the dramatic shift in the profiles of lung cancer patients has a clear cause: air fouled by dirty diesel exhaust fumes, construction dust, rising industrial emissions and crop burning, which has created heavy loads of harmful pollutants in the air.
Citizens back the clean-energy transition
Air quality is one of the biggest drivers of cultural urgency to make the transition to clean energy. Citizens around the world are embracing renewables as a route to clean air and tackling climate change. Countless public surveys show strong backing for a rapid shift to renewables and opposition to fossil fuels.
Responding to employment challenges
There are very valid concerns about jobs as we rapidly shift from fossil fuel based power generation. Some of these can be allayed by the employment opportunities created up and down the supply chain by the widespread adoption of renewable energy. Worldwide, the sector employed 11 million people in 2018, up from 10.3 million in 2017, according to IRENA.
Subsidy concerns can be overcome
Renewables’ dependence on subsidies is rapidly diminishing. They are already the cheapest source of electricity in many parts of the world, with global technology costs having fallen to a record low, according to IRENA. Many recent renewable projects have been achieved without subsidies, including a wind farm in the Netherlands and one in Germany. Momentum behind ‘subsidy-free’ renewables is growing and technology costs have fallen dramatically.
Cost concerns are easing
The absolute scale of the investment required for energy transitions over 2015-2030 – an additional $300-600 billion annually – does not create a major macroeconomic challenge, but it implies a major shift in investment flows from fossil fuels to low-carbon technologies and energy efficient equipment and infrastructure, according to the ETC.
Reliability can be addressed
Regulators in California are repeatedly choosing renewable energy plus storage over new gas plants, because of voltage regulation advantages as well as cost. In Australia, the Tesla big battery is helping to avoid price spikes and manage power outages rapidly and safely.
65 million new low-carbon jobs
Taking ambitious climate action could generate over 65 million new low-carbon jobs in 2030, equivalent to today’s entire workforces of the UK and Egypt combined, according to New Climate Economy research.
Enel works towards a just transition
Enel is leading the charge for a just transition in the energy sector, closing 13 GW of coal by 2050 in Italy whilst working closely with its unions and workers to retrain employees to power their renewable energy growth plans.
Poland engages with labor unions
Poland was forced to face coal restructuring that shrunk employment in the coal mining sector by 75% in only a decade and a half. The government worked with labor unions to develop a mining social package and special privileges for mining communes.
Canada’s just transition task force
A national commitment to phase out coal-fired electricity in Canada was coupled with a national task force made up of industry, labour, environment and coal community representatives. This group travelled across the country to listen to Canadians regarding the support and government policies they need to weather the transition and come out stronger.
Reskilling employees in Australia
ALG Energy’s Liddell coal power station in Australia is re-making itself into a renewable hub, shrinking its overall carbon footprint by 18% and making a 20% reduction in megawatt hour costs. By planning for the transition with its unions, all workers had the option to re-skill or re-deploy, with no forced redundancies.
Change is happening faster than many expect.
The transition to an entirely clean energy power system has begun in earnest. What we are witnessing is a revolution happening right now, with signals of changes all around us. The scale of this transition is often surprising if you don’t see the whole picture.
The benefits will be immense – not only will the transition help address climate change, it will create jobs and sustainable growth, enhance the competitiveness of industry, and protect the health of citizens.
In addition, it will create greater resilience in the economy, increase energy security and dramatically improve people’s quality of life – through better air quality, quieter cities and cleaner energy.
This is the future we want. For ourselves and for future generations.
But even for all these clear signals of change and the momentum achieved, it’s not happening fast enough. Government and business can be more ambitious and speed up the delivery of climate action.
To get to the net zero-carbon economy by 2050, the adoption of climate solutions needs to accelerate to ensure progress happens faster across the entire power system.
We can and we are creating a better future – and it’s our goal to make it happen faster.
Join other leading businesses, step up and commit to bold climate action.
- Set an ambitious science-based emission reduction target that’s aligned with what science says is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
- Commit to net-zero emissions by no later than 2050.
- If your company consumes electricity, commit to transition to 100% renewable electricity through RE100, led by The Climate Group, in partnership with CDP.
Drive change at the pace and scale required to achieve net-zero carbon emissions globally by 2050.
- Enact policies that enable transition to 100% zero-carbon power systems by 2050.
- Commit to a full phase out of coal by 2040.