The Historic Underestimation of Renewable Generation

The Historic Underestimation of Renewable Generation

Colin Palmer

40 years: Renewable energy

In this video, Colin explains how the International Energy Agency's predictions for renewable energy have changed in the last 20 years. He also explains the S curve model of technical change and finishes by highlighting the space requirements for renewable energies.

In this video, Colin explains how the International Energy Agency's predictions for renewable energy have changed in the last 20 years. He also explains the S curve model of technical change and finishes by highlighting the space requirements for renewable energies.

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The Historic Underestimation of Renewable Generation

9 mins 51 secs

Overview

In the year 2000 the UK set a target to secure 20% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. This was met with widespread scepticism at the time. Yet the actual figure in 2020 was 43%, with 24% coming from wind energy alone. At a global level, in 2002 the IEA predicted that the total installed PV capacity in 2020 would be 20GW. In fact, the capacity was 713GW, with 126GW added in 2020 alone. Similarly woefully incorrect predictions were made about the future cost of renewable energy, the rise of electric transport and the stability of electrical systems when large proportions of renewable generation are connected.

How did these experts get things so wrong? It appears that a great many predictions are implicitly (but seldom explicitly) based on more or less linear rates of change, whereas most technological change is exponential. Once a technology gains a foothold, it’s market penetration becomes exponential, changing so fast it is generally only understood with hindsight. In the modern world, the rates of penetration are becoming faster and faster. As volume rapidly scales, costs decrease, resulting in a virtuous feedback loop, further accelerating the rates of change. Wind energy, and solar PV in particular, are but a very recent manifestations of this trend.

Key learning objectives:

  • Explain the extent to which predictions and reality have differed for the deployment of renewable energy

  • Contrast linear and exponential models of technical change

  • Explain when renewable energy will be cost competitive with other forms of electricity generation

  • Describe the space requirements for renewable energies

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Summary
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Expert
Colin Palmer

Colin Palmer

Colin has been involved in renewable energy since the late 1970's. In 1988 he launched his own renewable energy company Windcluster Ltd, which financed and built one of the first wind farms in the UK. Colin has also been a director of the British Wind Energy Association and ReGen Southwest as well as a trustee of the Centre for Sustainable Energy in Bristol.

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