The quickly dropping costs of solar power and infrastructure have led to more rapid growth than optimistic models have projected, according to a new study by the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC). The research found that by 2050 solar power could make up between 30 percent and 50 percent of the world’s energy needs. That’s up sharply from the 5 percent to 17 percent or the world’s energy generation that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had projected.
“Solar power not only has huge potential in terms of resources, but is also environmentally friendly and the most cost-efficient technology for generating power in many parts of the world,” explained study co-author Robert Pietzcker of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). “Our study demonstrates that photovoltaics can be developed from a niche technology to the basis of a climate-friendly, affordable power supply.”
The new study was published in journal Nature Energy and found that the costs of solar power have dropped even quicker than the most optimistic models had assumed and infrastructure has expanded faster than expected. In fact, it’s likely to be three times higher than previously expected—that’s even if the demand for electricity continues to increase.
The study, which was conducted by researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE), PIK and the University of Wisconsin. They used PIK’s REMIND computer model to conduct the research. The model accounted for the costs of grid expansion, energy storage and other energy integration options in greater depth than before. The model explored the extent of photovoltaic infrastructure and the learning curve for expanding solar power. It found that as the price of solar panels drops by more than 20 percent the produced quantity doubles. “The longer this development lasts, the cheaper a kilowatt hour produced from solar energy gets,” MCC said.
“Whilst the important players in the sector, such as the International Energy Agency, continue to massively underestimate the extent to which solar power can contribute to climate protection, the risk of unprofitable investments and missed business opportunities remains. In order to make a stable power system with 20 to 30 percent photovoltaic energy possible within the next 15 years, we need to get on the right track now,” Pietzcker added.
The new study comes as IPCC prepares the next IPCC Assessment Report and for political decision-makers. The study also reaffirms what some other groups, like Energy Watch Group, have been saying—that renewable energy growth and cost reductions are being underestimated. While it poses new challenges it also presents new major opportunities for investment and solar energy growth.
“In order to tap the full potentials of solar energy, industrial countries – especially the G20 – need to modernize their regulations for the electricity market and promote technologies for new storage methods right now,” said lead author Felix Creutzig, head of the MCC working group Land Use, Infrastructure and Transport.
“Promising ideas are being fostered within laboratories and development departments of numerous companies, meaning it will be possible to reduce costs even further on a long-term basis,” says Jan Christoph Goldschmidt, leader of the “Novel concepts for solar cells” team at Fraunhofer ISE. “Our study indicates that, under realistic assumptions, photovoltaics will become the most important power source in the world—at least if we take climate protection seriously and focus on the most affordable kind of technology.”
The researchers also pointed that under the Trump Administration, the US is fighting a losing battle in pushing for coal and fossil fuels. “Our results also show that the current US administration is fighting a lost battle with their insistence on deregulating polluting coal,” Creutzig said. “Pretty soon, Donald Trump will be facing a backlash even from private enterprises who will be calling for ‘solar power first’.”Tweet