Power grids: global investment?

This simple model integrates estimates the global investment in power grids that will be needed in the energy transition, as a function of simple input variables that can be stress-tested: such as total global electricity growth, the acceleration of renewables, and the associated build-out of batteries, EV charging, long-distance inter-connectors and grid-connected capital equipment for synthetic inertia and reactive power compensation.

Global investment into power networks averaged $280bn per annum in 2015-20, of which two-thirds was for distribution and one-third was for transmission. This is a good baseline.

Our base case outlook in the energy transition would see total global investment in power grids stepping up to $400bn in 2025, $600bn in 2030, $750bn in 2035 and $1trn pa in the 2040s.

Our scenario is also not particularly aggressive around renewables, which are seen accelerating by 10x to provide around 20-25% of all global energy in 2050. You can realistically reach $2trn pa of global power network investment in a scenario that relies more heavily upon renewables and batteries.

Amazingly, these numbers can actually become larger than the total spending on producing all global primary energy. Whereas in the past, transmission and distribution were a kind of side-show, equivalent to c30% of total primary energy investment, the energy transition could see them become comparable, at 50-100%.

Definitions. By ‘power networks’ we are referring to the grid, which moves electrical energy from producers to consumers. Please note that our classification of power grids excludes (a) investments in primary energy production, such as renewables, nuclear, and hydro (b) investments in large conventional power-generating plants (c) downstream investments made by customers, such as in switchgear, power electronics and amperage upgrades.

The model can be downloaded to stress-test simple numbers, inputs and outputs. Please contact us know if the work provokes any questions, or further numbers that we can helpfully pull together for TSE clients.

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