UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


ISR academics produce report highlighting need to harness exponential growth of renewable power

6 October 2020

The report, ‘Shape and Pace of Change in the Electricity Transition: Sectoral dynamics and indicators of progress’, was commissioned by the We Mean Business coalition and conducted by ISR academics Prof Michael Grubb, Mr Paul Drummond and Dr Nick Hughes.

Wind turbines in field with sunset

The report highlights the urgency for businesses and governments to harness and drive the exponential growth of renewable energy to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, maximize economic and jobs potential, and avoid being left behind with outdated technology by the accelerating pace of change.

It discusses how historically industries, policymakers and commentators have often been caught off-guard by the pace of change that can erupt in markets, technologies and societies. It explains how change is not linear and that the speed and scale of market transformation can be seismic, as seen with the transition from propellers to jet engines or from landlines to cell phones.

The report identifies that the adoption of renewable power fits with the dynamics of the 'S-curve’ pattern of new technology adoption, where an early emergent growth phase gathers magnitude as the new technology is established and enters a phase of widespread diffusion characterized by exponential rates of growth. Harnessing the exponential growth of this ‘S-curve’ is vital to drive the pace and scale of change  necessary, both in technological progress and the diffusion of zero-carbon technologies, if we are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the most ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement.

The analysis shows that early progress has been made across the key metrics for decarbonizing the power sector, but for their full potential to be realized urgent action is needed from policymakers and businesses to decarbonize all sectors of the economy.

Prof Michael Grubb said:

The breakthroughs in solar, wind, and batteries have created unstoppable momentum towards growing market share. People still overlook the implications of exponential growth: the pace of growth in solar especially has outstripped all expectations, and the combined wind+solar growth rate is on track for the kind of transition needed to deliver the Paris emission goals in the power sector. But obstacles remain which could slow the pace of transition and prevent realisation of the full potential. High ambition still requires strong and broad-based policy action.”

Further information

Image credit: American Public Power Association on Unsplash