Clean Power solar power farm

Published on August 29th, 2011 | by Zachary Shahan


Solar Power Could Produce >50% of Global Electricity, IEA Report Concludes

August 29th, 2011 by  

solar power farm

This is no surprise to solar power fans and followers, that solar power could supply the world with most of its electricity needs by 2060. But the fact that the International Energy Agency (IEA) is broadcasting that, after increasing its previous projections, is pretty uplifting.

More from Bloomberg:

“Photovoltaic and solar-thermal plants may meet most of the world’s demand for electricity by 2060 — and half of all energy needs — with wind, hydropower and biomass plants supplying much of the remaining generation, Cedric Philibert, senior analyst in the renewable energy division at the Paris-based agency, said in an Aug. 26 phone interview.”

Despite the expectation that electricity demand will be much higher in 2060 than now, solar power is projected to grow so much that it will provide the world with the majority of its electricity needs in a few decades.

The IEA previously projected that solar would provide the world with 21% of its electricity needs by 2050, but its new report (due out later this year) shows a change of heart (or logic).

“Under the forecasted scenario, which Philibert will set out in more detail at a conference in Kassel, Germany, on Sept. 1, most heating and transport will switch from dirtier fossil fuels to cleaner electric power. Carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector would fall to about 3 gigatons per year compared with about 30 gigatons this year.”

"Comparing finite and renewable planetary energy reserves (Terawatt‐years). Total recoverable reserves are shown for the finite resources. Yearly potential is shown for the renewables." (source: Perez & Perez, 2009a)

Indicators that Solar Power is about to Boom

Many renewable energy haters (meaning fossil fuel companies, the politicians they purchase, and the citizens they confuse) love to focus on the fact that solar power provides us with a small percentage of our electricity today.

However, that small percentage is growing larger fast and solar is crossing a number of key checkpoints rapidly. As I’ve written in more detail previously:

  1. Solar power is a great investment for citizens around the country and the world TODAY, offering breathtakingly low electricity bills (and the possibility to even make money from the electric company in some places) and more than satisfactory returns on investment (solar power systems beat the heck out of the stock market for most people).
  2. Not even taking externalities into account (and solar power’s true value), solar power is projected to be cheaper than fossil fuels in just a few years.
  3. Solar energy resources crush those of any other power options (see image above).
  4. Solar costs are falling like crazy and, largely as a result of this, the solar power industry is growing like crazy (in the U.S. and globally).
  5. The need to get off fossil fuels and get on clean energy is becoming clear to more and more people every day. That need is driving energy policies around the globe that are speeding up the deployment of clean solar energy.

Check out my solar power intro post for more on these topics.

Truthfully, I hope and think the IEA’s estimates are still short of what could (and might) happen.

Photo via Duke Energy

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed 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, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. 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.

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    I am agreeing with the report, As we are expecting the cost of the technologies to fall at a rapid rate. Let us take example of India 1st solar mission projects, is give a good hope in this account. We see the Cost of the solar thermal Plant have come down to less than 100MINR/MW when compaired to the 220MINR in Eupro or else where in the world.

  • Anumakonda Jagadeesh

    Too Optimistic. Renewables in general and solar in particular can only supplement conventional power but cannot replace them even if they attain 100% efficiency! Let us be modest in our forecast. In many developing countries the renewable energy targets were never met.

    The United States Energy Information Administration regularly publishes a report on world consumption for most types of primary energy resources. According to IEA total world energy supply was 102,569 TWh (1990); 117,687 TWh (2000); 133,602 TWh (2005) and 143,851 TWh (2008). World power generation was 11,821 TWh (1990); 15,395 TWh (2000); 18,258 TWh (2005) and 20,181 TWh (2008). Compared to power supply 20,181 TWh the power end use was only 16,819 TWh in 2008 including EU27: 2 857 TWh, China 2 883 TWh and USA 4 533 TWh. In 2008 energy use per person was in the USA 4.1 fold, EU 1.9 fold and Middle East 1.6 fold the world average and in China 87% and India 30% of the world average.

    In 2008 energy supply by power source was oil 33.5%, coal 26.8%, gas 20.8% (fossil 81%), renewable (hydro, solar, wind, geothermal power and biofuels) 12.9%, nuclear 5.8% and other 4%. Oil was the most popular energy fuel. Oil and coal combined represented over 60% of the world energy supply in 2008.

    With this background, is the forecast by IEA reasonable ?

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP),India
    Wind Energy Expert

    • Anonymous

      I think it is. There’s a ton more solar and wind and geothermal energy resources than fossil fuels — we just took longer to figure out how to tap into them. Also, tidal, wave, hydro, etc. And now EVs and better energy storage options.

      I don’t think it’s about what’s possible, but about what politicians will help create (while taking money from already-rich fossil fuel companies).
      And I don’t consider the IEA to be an aggressively optimistic body with regards to this topic, so think its projections, at least, are very reasonable.

    • sola

      Just take a look at the current solar trends and you will see that it is reasonable.

      Solar PV has been growing at a 60% compound rate and this is at relatively high current prices. The necessary developments are clearly on the pipeline to further lower solar PV costs (e.g. look at First Solar’s cost/w diagram). As solar costs reach a certain lower levels, the growth rate becomes exponential and only supply can hold back growth.

      Solar PV is on the verge of becoming feasible without ANY kind of subsidies and when that happens, growth will be exponential.

      Other, new kind of solar power plants are on the verge of breakthrough as well. A nice example is the 200MW EnviroMission plant which is capable of producing at night without any battery system (solar heat stored in the ground).

  • Ed Kerr

    Nice work Zack: Developments like this have an uplifting effect on what would otherwise be a dismal situation. I’m hoping that with prodding we will be able to surpass even the most optimistic forecasts. We have the ability. Now we just need to spur on the political will to make it happen.

    • Anonymous



      This is our big challenge now, eh?

  • Here are some conditions that show that PV electricity is the same price as City of Cape Town electricity! Business owner working from home (who can buy capex before VAT) and using 1200 kwh per month at R1.13 per kwh ex VAT. Installed price per watt R23 ex VAT; 20 houses being installed at a time to get economies of scale; 7% interest rate being the maximum that one can get when using cash for investments (eg retired people taking money out of savings rather than other people using debt); 20 years repayment on solar system; O&M added at 8.5%; daily average sun hours at 5.7.

    Can anyone else verify this numbers?

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