Renewable energy will generate 49% of global electricity by 2050, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). In 2018, 28% of global electricity was generated by renewable energy, and 96% was produced by hydropower, wind and solar technologies.
Through 2050, solar technology is expected to be the fastest-growing generator of renewable energy, while hydroelectric will increase the slowest. Factors related to the region and technology will influence the growth rates of renewable technologies throughout the world. Resource availability, renewable policies, regional load growth and declining technology costs will contribute to the rise in global electricity generation from solar technologies.
As more solar power systems have been installed, the installation costs have declined by the largest amount of all renewable technologies recently. The costs are projected to continue to fall as a result of “learning-by-doing effects,” according to the EIA.
Solar resources are often more abundant than wind resources and follow predictable patterns daily and seasonally. Resource availability and predictably and simple plant construction technology also contribute to favorable economics for solar technology.
China is expected to see the most growth in solar generation because of its rising demand for electricity, favorable government policies and competitive technology costs. The growth of solar also will be strong in India, European countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the United States — all of which have near-term renewable policies.
Wind power is a relatively new technology, and declining costs as a result of learning-by-doing are not as great as solar technologies. A rise in the use of wind technology has potential for growth because many wind resource areas throughout the world have yet to be developed.
Near-term renewable policies in India and European countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are expected to lead to a rise in wind generation there. In China, wind has helped to meet the country’s rising electricity demand.
Hydroelectricity was the top source of renewable electricity generation in 2018, but it is expected to have little growth through 2050. Many of the best sites for hydropower have already been developed as the technology was established in the 19th century. New hydro plants aren’t being developed as quickly as other renewable technologies because the construction of the plants is costly and disruptive. China, Brazil and European countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development will have the greatest growth in hydroelectric generation in 2050, according to the EIA. These counties have extensive and accessible hydropower resources.