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Published on May 13th, 2010 | by Zachary Shahan


How to Make 25% of World's Electricity from Solar Energy by 2050

May 13th, 2010 by  


The International Energy Agency (IEA) presented two new solar energy analyses in Valencia, Spain this week, a Solar Photovoltaic Energy Technology Roadmap and a Concentrating Solar Power Technology Roadmap.

The key finding from these is that 20-25% of global electricity production could be from solar energy by 2050.

In a blog post on our sister site, One Block Off the Grid, I just discussed how the United States and how rooftop solar fit into this. Below, mostly from the reports themselves, is a short discussion of what government’s role in all of this needs to be.

Government’s Role

Together, IEA found that PV and CSP could create 9,000 Terawatt hours of electricity in 2050. Of course, as Environment America reported a couple months ago when they predicted that 10% or more of total electricity consumption in the US could come from solar energy by 2020, clear policies to support solar energy need to be implemented soon in order to achieve these levels. Progressive policies need to be implemented to make sure solar achieves grid parity and becomes increasingly competitive with other forms of electricity.

“This decade is crucial for effective policies to enable the development of solar electricity,” IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka said. “Long-term oriented, predictable solar-specific incentives are needed to sustain early deployment and bring both technologies to competitiveness in the most suitable locations and times.”

Solar PV

IEA reports that PV will reach grid parity in many regions by 2020 and that at that point policies in those regions will need to shift from a focus on economic incentives to a focus on fostering self-sustaining markets with continued support for grid access and R&D.

Key actions to promote PV electricity in the next 10 years or so include tho following, according to IEA:

• Provide long-term targets and supporting policies to build confidence for investments in manufacturing capacity and deployment of PV systems.

• Implement effective and cost-efficient PV incentive schemes that are transitional and decrease over time so as to foster innovation and technological improvement.

• As PV matures into a mainstream technology, grid integration and management and energy storage become key issues. The PV industry, grid operators and utilities will need to develop new technologies and strategies to integrate large amounts of PV into flexible, efficient and smart grids.

• Governments and industry must increase R&D efforts to reduce costs and ensure PV readiness for rapid deployment, while also supporting longer-term technology innovations.

• There is a need to expand international collaboration in PV research, development, capacity building and financing to accelerate learning and avoid duplicating efforts.

• Emerging major economies are already investing substantially in PV research, development and deployment; however, more needs to be done to foster rural electrification and capacity building. Multilateral and bilateral aid organisations should expand their efforts to express the value of PV energy in low-carbon economic development.

• Develop and implement appropriate financing schemes, in particular for rural electrification and other applications in developing countries.

• Increase R&D efforts to reduce costs and ensure PV readiness for rapid deployment, while also supporting longer-term innovations.

Concentrating Solar Power

IEA reports that by 2050, CSP could provide up to 11.3% of global electricity. It “can be expected to become a competitive source of bulk power in peak and intermediate loads by 2020, and of base-load power by 2025 to 2030.”

Key actions IEA says governments should take within the next 10 years to promote CSP include:

• Ensure long-term funding for additional RD&D in: all main CSP technologies; all component parts (mirrors/heliostats, receivers, heat transfer and/or working fluids, storage, power blocks, cooling, control and integration); all applications (power, heat and fuels); and at all scales (bulk power and decentralised applications).

• Facilitate the development of ground and satellite measurement/modelling of global solar resources.

• Support CSP development through long-term oriented, predictable solar-specific incentives. These could include any combination of feed-in tariffs or premiums, binding renewable energy portfolio standards with solar targets, capacity payments and fiscal incentives.

• Where appropriate, require state-controlled utilities to bid for CSP capacities.

• Avoid establishing arbitrary limitations on plant size and hybridisation ratios (but develop procedures to reward only the electricity deriving from the solar energy captured by the plant, not the portion produced by burning backup fuels).

• Streamline procedures for obtaining permits for CSP plants and access lines.

The goals are clearly attainable now. To achieve them, governments just need to step it up and set the stage for greater solar proliferation. The call has been made numerous times in different ways. All that is left is for those with the power to take action and move on this, and for more and more people to choose solar energy for their homes and businesses. Hopefully, it won’t take long now.

Photo Credit: david.nikonvscanon via flickr/CC license

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About the Author

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

  • Ray

    How our world can use 50% less electricity: Double the alternating current’s frequency, then half-wave rectify it at the last distribution point before the consumer. The consumer will receive rapidly pulsed, turned on and off electricity. This on and off pulsing, of their electricity, uses 50% less electricity. This means that 50% of the electricity generation power plants can be shut down, which means less pollution. It should also mean a 50% smaller electric bill.

  • Alex

    I have an easier solution: Break off a standard 15% from the department of defense budget and redirect it to solar power research/development etc. Done.

  • CEA

    In order for solar to be competitive in the future market, policy makers need to stick to their guns andn ensure that the proper market signals are sent to promote long term solar development. So many times in the past (and present) incentives for renewable energy have been pulled and left the market dry. Current developers who hope to protect their investment must have the federal backing that the renewable market will be stable. That is what will be needed to see ANY increase in capacity from solar, wind, etc.

    Want to learn more about balanced energy for America? Visit http://www.consumerenergyalliance.org to get involved, discover CEA’s mission and sign up for our informative newsletter.

  • Sven

    Put solar panels on every roof and let atomic energy do the rest. It’s that easy.

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