According to a new report from the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit that studies the energy transition, we have reached a pivot point in which fossil fuels have peaked in their use for producing electricity and are about to enter a period of decline.
The report makes the case that wind and solar power are going through a growth process that looks very much like the trend lines for the early stages of other transformative products and industries – things like automobiles and smartphones. Such growth begins slowly for technology and products that are very expensive, but then shifts into high gear as costs shrink and efficiency rises.
The argument is that fossil fuel demand has peaked in the electricity market because the annual growth in global electricity demand is now less that the amount of electricity being generated by newly-built renewable energy plants (mostly solar and wind.) This dynamic will squeeze out the most expensive and dirtiest energy sources over time.
Overall use of fossil fuels for electricity shifted in 2018 from a long-standing period of growth to a holding pattern in which the total amount of electricity produced has no clear trend. According to the RMI report, this plateau in fossil fuel use is likely to continue until about 2025, and then will be followed by a long-term decline.
While the trends in fossil fuel use are quite evident, the end results are not inevitable. There continues to be a battle between the forces trying to protect the fossil fuel status quo and those trying to change it. But strong economic forces are difficult to overcome. Renewable energy is the lowest cost source of electricity in a growing number of locations and situations.
When Will We Hit Peak Fossil Fuels? Maybe We Already Have
Photo, posted December 27, 2015, courtesy of Gerry Machen via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio