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Experts predict one source of energy will dominate the power grid by 2050: 'We are still seeing very rapid innovation'

It's good news for a planet under a heat lamp.

It’s good news for a planet under a heat lamp.

Photo Credit: iStock

We are nearing a time when most of Earth's power will be generated 93 million miles away by the largest power plant in the solar system: the sun

That's according to researchers from the United Kingdom's University of Exeter, who claim we have surpassed a "tipping point," as solar panel costs, use, and availability are all improving at impressive rates. The experts feel that by 2050, the sun will be powering most of our world. 

"The recent progress of renewables means that fossil fuel–dominated projections are no longer realistic," Exeter's Femke Nijsse said in a university report, which also cited advancements in wind power.

The study, reported on in Nature Communications, notes that solar panel costs dropped by 15% a year from 2010-20. The installed capacity (the amount of energy the system can produce) increased by 25% per year as well.

It's good news for a planet under the heat lamp, with temperature records being set on land and water. And, we may be at an intersection of tipping points. Climate experts warn that the planet's average temperature "should not exceed that of preindustrial times [before roughly 1900] by more than … 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit," according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That report cites other experts who fear that threshold will be crossed (66% likely) at some point in the next four years. 

Burning of dirty fuels for electricity and heat production contributes 25% of global heat-trapping air pollution, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. 

So, solar power's zenith is a welcome sight on the horizon for climate watchdogs. Lower costs and higher performance are important for mainstream adoption and reducing planet-warming air pollution

However, the Exeter team also highlighted four barriers for solar energy: grid resilience, access to finance, supply chains, and politics. 

The experts said that power grids need to be built with renewables in mind. Storing the intermittently generated electricity is important, or our energy systems will become "locked" with fossil burners to compensate for renewable energy's sporadic production. 

"If you don't put the processes in place to deal with that variability, you could end up having to compensate by burning fossil fuels," Nijsse said in the university report. Financing for renewable projects, particularly in poorer countries, and supply chains that can provide the rare metals needed for the tech worldwide are challenges, per Exeter.  

Now, the researchers plan to continue studying climate "tipping points" to help us better understand the path forward. 

"We are still seeing very rapid innovation in solar technology," Nijsse said in the report. 

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