Frank Rijsberman, Director-General of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), recently penned an article investigating the possibility that fossil fuels and conventional cars could be obsolete by 2030 – only 13 years away now. Given the vast quantities of fossil fuels currently used worldwide, and the huge number of conventional cars on the roads, to most people this would seem far-fetched to say the least; however, there are some good reasons for the assertion.
For a start, rapidly falling prices of renewable energy are not just transforming energy markets worldwide, they are quickly disrupting them. Already, solar power is the cheapest form of energy in 58 countries, including in populous countries such as China, India and Brazil. Solar power is predicted to be the lowest-cost energy option in almost all parts of the world in less than a decade.
As Rijsberman points out, it is Tony Seba, author of Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation, who has famously predicted that the centralised system of fossil fuel-based energy generation will be all but over by 2030. I have read Seba’s book and can recommend it. He presents a well reasoned argument that solar power in particular, combined with self-driving electric vehicles, will quickly supersede the current energy and transport systems.
Seba argues that new business models will quickly take over, making it seem cumbersome, expensive, and quite unnecessary for individuals to own cars by 2030. For instance, we will be able to summon self-driving electric cars from our mobile devices to get anywhere we want to go, whenever we like. He reasons that that this major change will happen before 2030, as this is about the same amount of time the transition from using horses to the widespread use of cars took in the early twentieth century.
At this year’s Wold Economic Forum, Rijsberman’s Global Green Growth Institute asked experts to discuss what the main impediments are to get to a 100% clean energy infrastructure. The consensus was that the most immediate barriers are still government fossil fuel subsidies and government legislation. These barriers exist despite the world having signed up to the Paris climate agreement, and G20 countries having pledged to end subsidies almost a decade ago, in 2009. Global fossil fuel subsidies still total a massive $450 billion per annum. It was agreed that the transition to sustainable energy could be accelerated considerably if these subsidies were removed.
Another impediment is said to be expensive energy storage. However, falling lithium-ion battery costs and fast development in energy storage systems, including smart grid software, are aiding the sustainable energy transition. When the cost of local renewable energy, such as solar power combined with energy storage, in any given area drops below the cost of energy transmission and distribution via the power grid, it will not be economically sensible for households to keep purchasing power from the grid. More and more households will turn away from buying grid power. This will disrupt and transform worldwide energy systems quickly.
Despite the ongoing exponential growth of solar power, renewable energy currently only accounts for about 7% of energy generated worldwide. However, with rapidly declining prices of renewable energy, especially solar, in combination with increasingly cheap energy storage, energy markets are destined to be disrupted and transformed around the world.
It remains to be seen whether all this will result in fossil fuels and conventional combustion engine cars becoming obsolete as soon as 2030, but it seems possible that it won’t take as long as most people believe. Despite how the situation looks in 2017, as momentum builds and passes a tipping point, energy and transportation systems could transform quickly.
Image: Gujarat solar park, State of Gujarat, India