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Will Green Energy dominate world energy by 2050?

By Ramy Rachmiel |  06.01.2022 | Translated by Yishai Gelb

Green energy is a grand promise for the future of humanity. Green energy will slow global warming and reduce the high costs of importing energy in the form of fossil fuels. However, the predicted change is farther into the future than it seems. 

In 2018, the IRENA, International Renewable Energy Agency, published a report with the forecast for energy use until 2050. The information is optimistic and places a goal to change the world energy economy and supports the Paris accords from 2015 to reduce global warming to just 2 degrees in the 21st century as a legitimate goal for humanity and a plan to unite around. 

In 2015, only 15% of global energy was produced from green sources. The report places a realistic goal to reach 66.7% energy production from green sources by 2050. China would need to reach 67%, the EU would need to reach 70%, and the USA and India need to achieve 66.7% of green energy sources by 2050. According to the report, such an achievement will ensure that the planet does not heat up by 2 degrees by the end of the century. The IRENA’s report includes the production of electricity and transportation that renewables will power. Most notably is the rise from 25% of electricity production by green sources in 2025 to 85% in 2050, mostly from solar energy, wind turbines, thermal energy, bioenergy, and transforming buildings to be more energy-efficient. 

Such an endeavor is not easy and is most certainly expensive. The report predicts that achieving 65% green energy by 2050 will cost the world economy $1.7 trillion (in 2018 currency). That is 2% of the world GDP and a total of $92-$120 trillion until 2050. Furthermore, in this transformation, there will be a loss of over 7 million jobs worldwide until 2050, primarily oil drilling jobs and infrastructure to mobilize the fossil fuels worldwide. On the other hand, the report states that the transformation will create over 19 million new jobs, mainly in building the new infrastructure, and that there will be a return of $6 trillion yearly thanks to environmental improvements. 

World governments are expected to cooperate in six different areas: The integration of green energy and growing electricity efficiency, the support of the electric companies for the transformation, the increase in electric transportation, development of green entrepreneurship, investment in green energy infrastructure, and comparing the cost of technological investment for return to countries thanks to success.

Cooperation can reduce the use of fossil fuels by 2.8% a year when in 2017, there was a reduction of 1.8%. There are two critical components for success. The first is to make the production and use of green electricity more efficient by storing electricity in buildings and reducing electricity usage. The Second is the use of electric cars to reduce oil-guzzling cars.  In 2017, approximately 1.2 million electric vehicles were sold, just 1.5% of all car sales. Moreover, 52% of those cars sold were in China. The report estimates that there is the potential that 1 billion electric vehicles will be in use by 2050. The combination of the two components will be responsible for reducing 90% of fossil fuels, and coal used, reaching the goal of 66.7% green energy globally. 

Green electricity production should rise from 25% today, to at least 60%, hopefully to 85%. Based on the most optimistic forecasts, the use of oil and coal will decrease by 70%-85% from 2018 until 2050, when natural gas will pick up most of the electricity production. Natural gas use will peak in 2027 and slowly decrease to about 30% of global electricity production by 2050.

The G20 players are expected to lead the way and have 85% of their energy produced by green sources, while China, the EU, the USA, and India will need to lead the way. Green energy doesn’t consist of solar panels and wind turbines, but also hydraulic power from dams and bioenergy.

In 2015, only 4% of the global transportation was electric. By 2050, that number can jump up to 58%, while hydrogen will play a vital role in this transformation along with vehicles that run on natural gas. Achieving such a goal will require investing approximately $14.2 trillion. Green energy in buildings can get 77% of green energy sources for $39.6 trillion. The industry’s transformation to 63% green energy will cost around $5 trillion, and %85 electricity production will cost approximately $24.6 trillion in infrastructure investments.  
Governments can promote IRENA’s vision by subsidizing green energy and relevant industries. Tax breaks, investments In R&D, and developing green infrastructure. Such actions will allow industry-related companies to flourish, reduce the number of people who don’t have reliable electricity sources, and increase jobs in this new emerging industry.

  Alongside economic growth, countries like Russia, the Gulf states, and fossil-fueled-based economies are likely to face economic stagnation, especially those predominantly based on the export of fossil fuels and their primary source of foreign currency.

Not everybody is as optimistic about IRENA’s report. Peter Zeihan, a geopolitical expert, states that a green energy revolution is unlikely to occur for three reasons. First, America’s withdrawal from different regions in the world is causing instability. Without the United States. there will be no one to uphold the free trade system but in place world war 2. Therefore the world economy is likely to slow drastically without the USA’s dominance worldwide, and the capital and cooperation needed for IRENA’s aspirations won’t be available.

Second, the understanding of climate change and its ramifications aren’t fully understood to us at this point, and most certainly not the way to go about dealing with the changing reality. 

Third, the technology for storing electricity is still far from where it needs to be for efficient energy storage. For example, only 10%-20% of the land is suitable for solar energy production, and the wind is drastically lower. For both, the proper suitable land is far from the population centers. 

Furthermore, Zeihan warns from a scenario where world instability will increase the usage of coal and fossil fuels as energy sources. Instead, the primary energy sources will be natural gas, hydroelectric plants, and nuclear power. 

At any rate, even if we ignore Zeihan’s warnings and fixate solely on the IRENA’s report, then the most optimistic forecast is 65% renewable energy by 2050, which means that in the coming decades, fossil fuels will still dominate our energy production, and will remain an essential component in geopolitics. 

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