Image: Chen yibao - Imaginechina
The transformation from a fossil fuel-based global economy, to one that is powered by a decentralized mix of renewables is happening far faster than anyone anticipated, according to Michael Liebreich, the founder and chairman of the advisory board at Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). 

In a keynote address at the BNEF annual summit in New York on Tuesday, Liebreich delivered what amounted to a broadside against Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, who is helping to fund a global push for a "miracle" breakthrough in energy technology within the next 15 years in order to solve the problem of human-caused global warming. 

"There's no question we need an energy miracle. But I worry about characterizing miracles — the definition of a miracle is that the case must be hopeless and the recovery instantaneous and total," he said. 

Instead, Liebreich said, many of the miracles that are needed are already apparent, but much more work is required to push them into mainstream use. 

Image: BNEF

Citing the plummeting costs of solar power as well as wind energy, Liebreich asked, "How much more miracle-y do you need your miracles to be?"

Solar costs have come down by a factor of 150 since 1975, Liebreich said.

"How much more miracle-y do you need your miracles to be?"

In terms of the share of power generation, the amount of solar power being generated to power homes and offices has doubled seven times in the past 15 years, while wind power has doubled four times.

However, even with such steep rates of increase, both solar and wind are relatively minor players in electricity generation worldwide, compared to natural gas and coal, for example. 

Image: BNEF

He also cited what he called the "miracle of Musk," referring to Tesla CEO Elon Musk. During the first three days of orders for the Tesla Model 3, which is the company's first electric vehicle targeted for the mass market, the company has taken 276,000 orders, Liebreich said. 

This amounts to a potential $11.6 billion in sales in three days. 

That easily blows away the amount of iPhone 6 sales in the first three days, which was just $3.5 billion, and well below the haul from Star Force Awakens' first three days in theaters, which was a half billion dollars during that time.

Based on the trajectory of battery prices, Liebreich said electric vehicles are likely to reach cost parity with internal combustion cars somewhere between 2022 and 2026, depending on developments in the price of oil, among other factors. 

Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which is part of Bloomberg LLP, is predicting that up to 50% of new vehicles sold will be electric vehicles, which would get rid of 13 million barrels per day in world oil demand. 

"The truth is we still have a long way to go to get to where we need to be"

Between now and 2040, China will take over as the leading region for both car manufacturing and innovation, Liebreich said. 

"There are a number of cars, though, coming into the market that will be at the 200-mile range, $30,000 price," he said. "These are normal family cars and they are perfect second cars. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. households have second cars. Tell me why they wouldn't all — or almost all — go electric in the next decade?"

The rise of solar, wind and electric vehicles will require extensive changes in electric grids to properly store energy and manage its distribution to where its needed most. 

Both Liebreich and Secretary of State John Kerry, who also spoke at BNEF on Tuesday, acknowledged that the recently negotiated Paris climate agreement was one step toward solving global warming, rather than a solution in itself.

For his part, Liebreich showed a chart depicting the mix of global energy supply, as represented by hexagons. This was compared to where the the world would need to move to if the goal of the Paris agreement is to be met. 

Image: BNEF

“The truth is we still have a long way to go to get to where we need to be," Kerry said. Kerry told the audience of renewable energy entrepreneurs to "double down on what you're already doing."

“Those betting on renewable energy technologies are going to win big.”

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