The world’s rising reliance on fossil fuels may come to an end decades earlier than the most polluting companies predict, offering early signs of hope in the global battle to tackle the climate crisis.
The looming fossil fuel peak is expected to emerge decades ahead of forecasts from oil and mining companies, which are betting that demand for polluting energy will rise until the 2040s.
But energy experts are adjusting their forecasts as clean energy technologies, including wind and solar power, emerge faster than predicted and at costs that pose a direct threat to coal-fired electricity and combustion-engine vehicles.
Within the energy industry, experts believe the rapid rise of renewable energy in recent years may soon seem glacial compared with the changes to come.
Michael Liebreich, the founder of the research group Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), says the substitution of old technology with new is always “like waiting for a sneeze”.
“The first 1% takes forever, 1% to 5% is like waiting for a sneeze – you know it’s inevitable but it takes longer than you think – then 5% to 50% happens incredibly fast,” he says.
Earlier this summer, BNEF reported that not only was renewable energy cheaper than building a new gas or coal plant, but it would soon be cheaper than using existing thermal plants too.
This economic tipping point means it would save money to shut existing coal-fired power plants down and build new renewable energy projects from scratch. Abundant clean electricity could help remove the emissions from the world’s transport and heating systems too.