According to researchers from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC), solar power and storage have become more affordable in the past decade. This makes a transition to net-zero emissions more feasible than what current climate change models suggest.
In a September 22 press release, the MCC said that two critical options for rapidly reducing carbon emissions – intermittent renewables and efficient end-use technologies – are not adequately represented in the models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The MCC’s study will be published in Energy Research & Social Science in November.
According to the MCC, existing climate change models assume inefficient combustion, particularly through the use of coal and bioenergy. However, their cost assumptions are outdated.
The MCC revealed that the cost of batteries has decreased to less than $100 per kilowatt hour. Researchers had previously believed that battery storage prices would not drop that low until well into the 2030s.
In addition, battery storage costs have fallen by 85% in the last decade. Solar production costs have decreased by 87%.
Besides underestimating solar energy’s cost efficiency, climate change models underestimate the global growth rate of solar energy.
In 2019, climate scientists predicted that solar technology could deliver 20 to 50 exajoules per year by 2050. Just four years later, the expected figure is now between 125 to 350 exajoules.
The researchers attribute the underestimation of solar innovation to its granular nature, which allows for faster learning, adoption, and improvement.
According to Dan O’Brien from DSD Renewables, the MCC study accurately reflects the changes in pricing, technology, equipment costs, and public adoption of renewable energy and electrification. However, he notes that challenges remain. The solar industry needs qualified labor, infrastructure upgrades, and land availability.
Despite these difficulties, O’Brien anticipates continued growth in the renewables sector and its market participants. O’Brien told Utility Dive that climate change models have consistently underestimated solar power production for years.
In its statement, the MCC described the global transition to clean energy as an “enormous political challenge.” Lead author Felix Creutzig emphasized the importance of accurately incorporating technical advancements in renewables into climate models to offer policymakers reliable guidance.
The study also stressed the need for a new generation of models that better capture technology learning and diffusion, especially in terms of technological details. Climate change models also need to reflect real-world dynamics and draw on evidence from business innovation publications.