Reasons Why Solar Energy Could Become the World’s Biggest Source for Electricity
The sun could be the world’s largest source of electricity by 2050, outpacing fossil fuels, wind, hydro, and nuclear power sources. This is according to a pair of reports from the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The two IEA technology roadmaps indicate that by 2050, solar photovoltaic (PV) systems could generate up to 16% of the world’s electricity, while an additional 11% could be provided by solar thermal electricity (STE) from concentrating solar power (CSP) plants.
Combining solar technologies could prevent the emission of more than 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2050 – which is equivalent to the emissions from all current energy-related CO2 sources in the United States, or almost all direct emissions from transportation worldwide today.
The rapid cost decrease of photovoltaic modules and systems in the last few years has opened new perspectives for using solar energy as a major source of electricity in the coming years and decades.
However, both technologies are very capital intensive: almost all expenditures are made upfront. Lowering the cost of capital is thus of primary importance for achieving the vision in these roadmaps.
Recent documents about solar energy emphasize the complementary role of the two technologies. With 137 GW of capacity installed worldwide as of 2013, and with new installations totaling 100 MW every day, PV deployment has been much faster than that of STE – mainly due to massive cost reduction.
The scenario described in the roadmaps predicts that solar electricity will grow mainly through PV technology until 2030. However, things are expected to change after this.
When a certain percentage of annual electricity generation is reached, PV technology starts to become less valuable in wholesale markets. However, at this stage (5-15%), deployment of STE technology takes off thanks to the built-in thermal storage ability of CSP plants, which allows for generation of electricity when demand peaks later in the day.
The global market for solar energy is expanding rapidly, with China leading the way and the United States coming in second. More than half of all installed solar capacity is located at the final consumers’ sites – whether households, shopping malls or industries. Solar thermal energy (STE) is growing especially fast in sunny areas with clear skies, presenting a major opportunity for Africa, India, the Middle East, and the United States.
The two roadmaps provide a vision for deployment based on updated modelling results that are consistent with the IEA’s Energy Technology Perspectives 2014.
Each publication also offers a set of key actions for policy makers to take to promote solar PV and STE deployment over the next five years. These key actions include setting or updating long-term targets for deployment, developing streamlined procedures for providing permits and connection, and implementing remuneration schemes that reflect the true value of power generated by solar PV and STE.
By taking these actions, policy makers can help to create a more favourable environment for solar PV and STE deployment, which will in turn lead to greater adoption of these technologies.
About the IEA
The International Energy Agency (IEA) is a group of 29 countries that work together to ensure reliable, affordable, and clean energy. The IEA was founded in response to the 1973/4 oil crisis as a way for different countries to co-ordinate during disruptions in oil supply. However, the IEA has evolved and expanded over time into much more than that. Today, the IEA is a leading voice in global discussions on energy, providing top-notch research, statistics, analysis, and recommendations.