Renewables Singularity approaches as CO2 emissions from electricity generation are set to fall

  •   4 min reads
Renewables Singularity approaches as CO2 emissions from electricity generation are set to fall

Renewables singularly, when all energy is generated from renewables, is a step closer after news that carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation are set to fall in 2023.

Singularity — in physics, Singularity often refers to the centre of a black hole where matter is compressed into an infinitely tiny point.  In technology, Singularity refers to a theoretical point when exponentially changing technology becomes uncontrollable and irreversible. In the context here, we are using the phrase renewables singularity to explain something much more prosaic but incredibly important all the same. It describes that point when exponentially growing renewables provide 100 per cent (or near 100 per cent) of our total energy.

According to a report from Ember,  which itself took data from an IEA report  global demand for electricity grew by 2.5 per cent, or 694 TWh.l in 2022. Meanwhile, electricity generated by wind and solar increased by 20 per cent. Solar increased by 245 TWh and wind by 312 TWh.  That's a difference of just 137 TWh

Ember says that possibly as soon as 2023, growth in renewables will exceed growth in electricity demand.

Ember also says that 2023, or this year, will mark the moment when C02 emissions from electricity generation begin to fall.

Think of it another way; Ember says:  "Last year emissions intensity reached a record low of 436 gCO2/kWh."

It is an important moment. For some time, critics of renewables have pointed out that despite the increase in renewables, global emissions of C02 have been rising — ergo, goes the inference, why bother?

The reality is both different and nuanced. Renewables have been growing rapidly for years — from five per cent of electricity emissions in 2015 to ten per cent in 2021 and 12 per cent in 2022.

The 2.5 per cent growth in global electricity demand see in 2022 is similar to the average growth of 2.6% in the previous decade (2010-2021).

It is always difficult to hit a moving target, and when electricity generation is increasing, it is that much harder for a new means of generating electricity to increase market share. But it is happening anyway.

Renewables singularly

So when will we hit renewables singularly— assuming growth rates stay at current levels?

Let's run some simple maths over this. Let's say renewables grow by 20 per cent a year, as happened last year and electricity generation by three per cent a year, slightly higher than last year. And let's say renewables have a one per cent share of electricity generation in year one. At the above growth rates, it would take 19 years for growth in renewables to match growth in electricity generation. But once you pass that tipping point, according to a quick model we ran on Excel, it would take 12 years until renewables make up 100 per cent of electricity generation.  Right now, we are at that tipping point, which would suggest 2036 as the year renewables make up all of our electricity.  But also imagine the doubts and the criticism during that period when renewables only made a tiny dent in market share.

Doesn't that simple mathematics explain an awful lot? Maths, especially when exponential functions are involved, always does create results that clash with what human intuition would expect. It sees slow change at first, creating doubts and cynicism, then rapid change, then even more rapid change, until you reach some kind of Singularity, which in this case is that moment when renewables provide all our energy needs.

According to Enerdata, , electricity makes up 20 per cent of total global energy.

And according to Statista, total energy usage increased by 180 per cent so far this century.

As the Tesla master plan pointed out, electricity is more efficient and uses less fossil fuel per unit of energy used than other forms of energy such as gas or coal.

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So let's say we target 100 per cent energy from electricity by 2050; that means electricity demand will rise ninefold.

We ran those figures through Excel. According to our back-of-an-envelope/Excel calculation, we will hit that level much sooner; renewables Singularity should be here around 2044.

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