The Beginning of the End for Fossil Fuels

There is no turning back now. The energy industry has passed a turning point. The world is now adding more capacity for renewable power each year than coal, natural gas, and oil combined.

In 2013, it became a done deal. The world added 143 gigawatts of renewable electricity capacity, compared with 141 gigawatts in new plants that burn fossil fuels, according to an analysis presented Tuesday at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) annual summit in New York. This change will continue to grow geometrically and by 2030 more than four times as much renewable capacity will be added.

“The world energy system is shifting to clean renewable energy,” Michael Liebreich, founder of BNEF, said in his keynote address. “Despite the decrease in oil and gas prices there is going to be a substantial buildout of renewable energy.  The buildout  is likely to be an order of magnitude larger than the buildout of coal and gas in the past century.”

The cost of wind and solar power continues to drop as economies of scale drive costs down and is now equal to or cheaper than grid electricity in many areas of the world. Solar presently makes up less than 1 percent of the electricity market but will be the world’s primary source by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency.

It is no longer a question of if the world will transition to cleaner energy, but rather just how long it will take. BNEF forecasts that billions of dollars will need to be invested each year in order to avoid the most severe consequences of climate change. Those dollars will be invested in renewable power.

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