The Future Looks Increasingly Electric: Report on 2050

Sept. 10, 2018
The rise of electricity consumption bodes well for microgrids, renewables, EVs and distributed energy. Here DNV GL shows us, by the numbers, what the year 2050 may look like for the power sector.

A report issued today by DNV GL finds electricity consumption rising worldwide by 2050, transmission and distribution systems expanding, and a continuing role for microgrids.

Electricity generation will account for 45 percent of all energy demand by 2050, more than double the current rate, according to DNV GL’s “Energy Transition Outlook 2018: Power Supply and Use.” Electrification of energy demand in all regions and sectors, particularly the uptake of electric vehicles, will drive this growth.

The modeling work undertaken predicts that by 2050, 80 percent of global electricity production will be supplied by solar photovoltaics, onshore wind, hydropower, and offshore wind. The generation variability from wind and solar power will require flexibility.

Options for flexibility

This flexibility will be delivered in multiple ways, according to the report. Batteries, hydropower, and liquid air will be amongst the energy storage technologies used to balance the electricity networks. Interconnections to neighboring nations, flexible generators like open-cycle gas turbines, and demand side response could also provide flexibility.

‘Power to gas’ or ‘power to liquid’, the production of hydrogen gas by electrolysis using excess renewable energy is another potential form of flexibility. Hydrogen gas can be used for residential, commercial or industrial heat. It may also be converted to other products like methanol and ammonia for use in the chemicals industry.

Electric vehicle uptake will rise rapidly, with EVs comprising 50 percent of all new cars sold in 2027 in Europe.

Electric vehicle uptake will rise rapidly, with EVs comprising 50 percent of all new cars sold in 2027 in Europe. Similar trends are expected in most regions of the world. These vehicles may provide grid-balancing services for the electricity networks, if vehicle owners are willing to participate.

Due to the rise in electricity consumption, major expansions of electricity transmission and distribution networks are foreseen by the report. The report also points out roles for microgrids.

Role of microgrids as electricity consumption rises

Affordable solar or wind with battery storage microgrids will provide electricity for islands and remote villages. Microgrids for commercial, industrial or residential systems that require reliability or can make financial gains from ‘behind the meter’ generation, storage and demand will also evolve.

Isolated and small electricity grids driven by economics of fuel supply, such as offshore oil installation and remote scientific locations are likely to install microgrids.

There is a possibility that microgrids will eventually join together to form a conventional distribution system, however reductions in solar and storage costs may remove the incentive for this, according to the report.


Improved communications, intelligent sensors, availability of large data sets and tools for using these, and complex controls systems apply across the entire energy transition system. The impact of digitalization is difficult to quantify, but the influence is already present, and viewed as a critical factor for the energy transition envisioned by DNV GL.

Global demand and supply peaks in 2030s

For global energy systems as a whole, the model predicts that final energy demand will peak in the mid-2030s at around 470 exajoules/year, 17 percent higher than 2016’s demand. Slowing population and productivity growth, greater efficiencies, and a lower share of fossil fuels at low thermal efficiencies in the energy mix all contribute to a decline in energy demand to 450 exajoules/year by 2050.

The report says that global primary energy supply follows a similar pattern, peaking in the early 2030s. Supply will not longer be dominated by coal, oil and gas, reaching an equal split between fossil and non-fossil fuels by 2050.

Provided by DNV GL

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About the Author

Yasmin Ali

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