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Published on September 20th, 2017 | by Zachary Shahan


Epic — Wind Turbines On Steroids, + Idiotic Clean Energy Forecasts (Charts)

September 20th, 2017 by  

As I noted in my article earlier today, Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Future of Energy Summit just wrapped up in London. Michael Liebreich, BNEF’s Founder* and Chairman of the Advisory Board, knocked the ball out of the park in his keynote presentation (whoops, wrong continent for that metaphor — maybe he scored a hat trick).

From the 170 slides, a few of them have already gotten a nice burst of tweets. Two of those tweets flew into my email box this morning and gave me a big smile (thanks, Karl Graves). The first one was the stimulus for that article about electric vehicles I wrote a few hours ago, while the second one as well as other slides I found in Michael’s presentation stimulated more thoughts about the renewable energy side of the cleantech equation. To start off, here’s the eye-catching tweet:

That’s a dramatic visualization of how incremental improvements to technology make a big difference over time. No, bigger does not always equal better, but more and more powerful wind turbines have come along at the same time that wind power costs have become cheaper and cheaper — it’s not a coincidence. The technology has been improving in a mostly subtle yet superbly powerful way, and the turbines themselves have become increasingly dramatic and towering beasts.

Wind power is now the cheapest option for new electricity in many if not most places in the world, but when’s the last time you heard about a huge wind power “breakthrough,” something that was so big it was covered not just on CleanTechnica but also on NBC, CBS, and (God forbid!) Fox News? We cover incremental improvements here and there, but there haven’t been any big “breakthroughs” in the normal sense of the word that I recall.

Though, I do remember covering 6 years ago a presumptive path for wind energy to dramatically cut its costs through various incremental improvements. I’m not sure of the details of the price cuts in the past 6 years, but the result is basically what Chris Varrone presented and I was then inspired to cover.

Those cost drops — alongside similar but even more dramatic solar power cost drops — have continuously led to renewable energy growth that has “surprised” the experts. Well, who knows if it really surprised them, but the International Energy Agency (IEA) has routinely forecast much slower wind and solar energy growth than reality delivered. Here’s an example for solar:

As you can see there, the IEA has been a horrid solar growth forecaster. That’s an embarrassing track record. And it’s not even related to this: “IEA Underreporting Solar & Wind Energy 3–4x Compared To Fossil Fuels.”

Meanwhile, countries around the world have seen their shares of renewable energy (compared to dirty energy) rise considerably. In the slide below, the growth in the UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Brazil is particularly awesome. The IEA apparently didn’t see this growth coming, but it came hard and fast nonetheless, with a big thump on the head of dirty energy sources.

Of course, the IEA wasn’t the only conventional energy giant missing a realistic forecast for the industry. Major coal companies have had to shrink or file for bankruptcy and utilities in certain countries have been ordered by the free market to scale back, split up, write off useless dirty energy assets, and reorient their visions for the future. German utilities together formed one of the most notable examples, and Michael Liebreich put that in chart form to highlight the temporal history of $66 billion in write-downs.

It’s a brave new world, and aging giants have to adjust. BNEF’s forecasts have been much more realistic than the IEA’s, so let’s close out this piece with a slide showing how the information and analysis company expects the global electricity capacity market to shift from 2016 to 2040:

Yes, the analysts at BNEF see coal shrinking from its already shrunk 30% to 13% by 2040, and they see gas shrinking from 24% to 14%.

Onshore wind doubles its share of the market from 7% to 14%, barely passing up coal and just catching gas.

Solar PV explodes from 5% to 32%.

I’m surprised the analysts don’t see a brighter future for offshore wind by 2040, but they apparently presume that it will be held back by a few challenges or limitations.

28% of electricity generation capacity from fossil fuels is still a threatening prospect, but it is much better than the 60% they hold now — and I’m sure much better than whatever the IEA is forecasting these days.

Looking at all of these numbers and considering your background knowledge from reading thousands of CleanTechnica articles, what are your thoughts for how market share will change by 2040?

Repeating what I wrote earlier today, despite the existential threats Donald Trump is putting on the doorsteps of the USA and the world as a whole, Michael Liebreich’s take is that the markets have already decided that coal is getting the boot, natural gas is a temporary transition fuel, and you just can’t beat renewables.

Donald Trump quite shockingly did decide he wanted to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement, but the world basically shrugged and said, “your loss.” (See this, this, this, and this if you missed our previous explanation of how harmful Donald’s approach is to the US economy and American jobs.)

On that topic, here again is what I wrote in my previous article about an important early response:

Back in January Michael actually pre-emptively fished out a statement about what India’s response would be if Donald pulled the USA out of the Paris climate agreement. Months before that actually happened, Michael knew this was one of the prime concerns of the cleantech and climate action community since India previously had big demands regarding US and European climate action — since we are the ones who have historically polluted the most and have much higher per-capita carbon footprints. But Michael also had a strong hunch that those talking points and negotiation tactics didn’t really matter, because cleantech had arrived.

Since then, India has come out and announced a target to become the world’s first fully electric car country. It’s not likely to be the first, but that tells you a bit more about how the conversation has shifted in the past few years.

I was basically the only journalist on hand watching and recording the exchange — I don’t think anyone else reported on it — but I shared the whole thing in video format here on CleanTechnica if you want to have a look back. The basic summary of the response from India’s Minister of State with Independent Charge for Power, Coal, New & Renewable Energy and Mines, Piyush Goyal, was simple: cleantech has arrived, is more competitive than dirty tech, and will grow faster than countries around the world are promising in their individual country climate commitments (INDCs).

Cleantech has certainly arrived. Now it’s putting pollution sources like oil, gas, and coal to sleep. It is moving us into an unprecedented era in which we finally stop burning stuff for energy.

It may not make the evening news, but I think everyone with a head on their shoulders should take a scroll through Michael Liebreich’s Future of Energy Summit / Breaking Clean presentation — the slides (linked there) and the coming video. Enjoy!

*See my exclusive interview with Michael about the history of Bloomberg New Energy Finance for a fun story. 


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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in NIO [NIO], Tesla [TSLA], and Xpeng [XPEV]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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