Can Solar Power Replace Fossil Fuels?

Solar power can absolutely replace some use of fossil fuels, but as solar has become a more economical option, more people have wondered whether it could one day replace fossil fuels altogether. The answer is both yes and no. While sunlight is abundant and free, the practicalities of going all-solar aren't feasible for everyone everywhere in the world. However, when you combine the potential for solar and wind energy, it is possible that we could someday give up fossil fuels worldwide.

According to a report published by the U.K.-based think tank Carbon Tracker in 2021, a combination of solar and wind energy could meet the world's energy demand many times over and replace fossil fuels completely by as early as 2035. Their report shows that modern wind and solar technologies are capable of capturing 6,700 petawatt-hours (PWh) of energy, while the world's current demand is only 27 PW h.

If the world were to solely rely on solar power, the landmass needed for the required amount of solar panels would be 450,000 square kilometers, a mere 0.3% of the planet's total 149 million square kilometers of land and far less than the amount of land that fossil fuel power generation now requires. But not every location gets the same amount and intensity of sunlight, and not every area with a high demand for electricity is a good place to capture solar energy.

But while solar power can't replace fossil fuels on its own, it can certainly go a long way, and coupled with wind energy, we could generate enough power to completely halt using fossil fuels. Carbon Tracker estimates that if both the solar and wind industries can continue to grow by at least 15% a year, they could be responsible for providing all of the world's electricity as soon as 2035.

Only time will tell if wind and solar will replace fossil fuels, but one thing is certain: The potential is there!