Quantifying a realistic global wind and solar electricity supply

Published: 21/05/2015

Nearly all long-term energy projections rely heavily on renewable energy sources on the assumption of abundance. Yet, already today, wind and solar projects can encounter local objections and competition with other uses. This paper, written by Ecofys as a resource for Shell’s future energy scenarios, presents the ranges of a realistic potential supply for solar and wind electricity, using a 1 km² grid level analysis covering the whole world at country level. In addition, the paper assesses the potential for building-based solar electricity and presents a meta-analysis of geothermal and hydropower potentials.

We find that long-term combined potentials range between 730 and 3,700 exajoules per year (EJ/a) worldwide for solar and wind potentials alone, depending crucially on the acceptable share of land and sea. Our analysis finds up to 3.5% of total (non-ice covered) land, and 2.2% of sea area, available for energy harvesting. Realistic potentials account for limitations such as land-use competition and acceptance, together with resource quality and remoteness as proxies for cost. Today’s electricity demand (65 EJ/a) is well covered by the range, but constraints may occur in the long run locally. Amongst large countries, Nigeria and India may need imports to meet electricity demand.

Find additional insights in our analysis of the global biofuels potential.
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Find the full scientific paper also online at Elsevier.

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