Solar is taking over

Solar power will overtake coal as the world’s largest source of electricity by 2027, according to a new International Energy Agency (IEA) report.

Why it matters: The rapid growth of solar power as a part of the world’s energy mix (it accounted for less than 1% of power capacity in 2010) is revolutionizing how the world generates its electricity. 

  • The IEA’s forecast shows renewable power (including nuclear) becoming the largest source of electricity by 2025, significantly earlier than its previous estimates.
  • The world will add as much renewable energy capacity in the next five years as the past 20 combined, the IEA projects.

Why it’s happening: The war in Ukraine and the global energy crunch coming out of the pandemic have accelerated Western countries’ pivot away from fossil fuels that have to be imported from unstable parts of the world.

  • “Fossil fuel supply disruptions have underlined the energy security benefits of domestically generated renewable electricity,” says the IEA. 

But the renewable boom has only been possible because of years of technological and manufacturing improvements that have driven down costs.

  • The cost of solar has dropped by more than 90% since 2010, and the price of wind has fallen by 72%.
  • It’s now much cheaper to build new solar and wind farms than coal plants, so as countries expand their power capacity, the share of renewables is climbing. 

Yes, but: Solar and wind alone won’t be enough to replace fossil fuels. To keep the lights on when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, we’ll also need a significant expansion of battery storage capacity, more flexible power grids, and other energy sources that can make up for shortfalls.