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Published on November 19th, 2014 | by James Ayre


SunPower: Solar Energy To Be $5 Trillion Industry Within 20 Years

November 19th, 2014 by  

The leadership of one of the largest solar PV manufacturers in the world, SunPower, is banking on the rather blunt predication that the solar energy industry will become a $5 trillion dollar industry within only 20 years, according to recent statements.

The company’s head, Tom Werner, made the prediction at the company’s recent day-long annual briefing in San Jose, California — also noting that the industry’s expected growth represents one of the best opportunities in the history of markets.

Commenting on this potential opportunity, Werner stated: “We’ve just scratched the surface of this opportunity. I’ve been doing this for eleven years, and I’ve realised we’re just beginning.”

Given the recent closing of the US–China climate change deal, extra weight certainly does seem to be added to Werner’s comments — for the targets to be met, solar buildout is going to have to really pick up steam over the next few years.

On that note: China is going to have to install 1,000 GW (one million MW) of new renewable energy capacity by 2030 in order to meet its current targets — roughly 1300 MW a week.

RenewEconomy provides more on this SunPower news:

Below are two key graphs from Werner’s presentation. The first is the where the solar industry is now and where it has come from.

It is barely a scratch of the surface of the global electricity industry, at less than one per cent of total electricity demand, but it’s impact is already clear – particularly in developed countries where it is displacing fossil fuels, and in developing countries, where it is offering a cheaper, unsubsidised alternative.

SunPower chart

But this is where the industry is heading. It pretty much conforms with much of the mainstream predictions such as that from the International Energy Agency and IRENA.

SunPower graph


(It would have been nice if the two graphs above had the same scale, but nonetheless….)

This is all more or less consistent with the predictions of prominent investment banks, like Alliance Bernstein — which recently noted that “solar has appeared, like a lightning bolt from the sky,” now competing with “diesel fuels everywhere, imported LNG in Asia, and gas” in various developed economies. Rather than a lighting bolt, perhaps they could have said, “like the sun rising in the morning.” Just a thought.

Werner’s predictions, though, are based mostly on a presumed big shift at the household level. The graph below illustrates his point:

home solar SunPower

The expectation is that over the next 20 or so years home solar will grow to cover another 150 million homes — thereby accounting for roughly 10% of total electricity supplied.

Bold predictions. As always though, time will tell.

Werner also noted that SunPower will in the future no longer be “simply” a manufacturer of solar panels and builder of projects, but also a services provider.


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Image Credit: SunPower

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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • GaelanClark

    Gotta love the moderators here….just erase whatever comments don’t fit the meme…you know the comments you don’t have any answer to and cannot defend against. WOW

    • Wayne Williamson

      didn’t see your original post so don’t know what it contained. That being said, this is a renewable blog, so if your post was not about wind/solar/hydro or high eff houses/buildings/transportation, it would probably be deemed non relevant…just say’n….

    • Bob_Wallace

      Some comments are of such low quality that no one wants to waste their time addressing them.

    • Not sure what your original comment was, but we’re quite open here. We have a lot of discussions with dissenters. In fact, some of or regular commenters are typically very critical. However, we don’t humor trolls who post very obvious misinformation that has been debunked repeatedly and would have a harmful effect on society, and of course we don’t allow spam, abusive comments, or obviously irrelevant comments.

  • GaelanClark

    $5TRILLION, huh?!?
    That amount will really, really start to hurt our economy when 75% of it has to be bankrolled by the taxpayers in bailouts….ummmm, just like Ivanpah which is producing only 25% of its intended output!!

    Now this is a standard liberals love….hook us on grand assumptions and leave us to rot with the bill after those assumptions fail.

  • JamesWimberley

    Yes. The scale on the first graph conceals the fact that solar’s growth has been pretty reliably exponential with a CAGR around 44%. It may not have looked that way to all the marginal solar firms that went bust in 2012, but the dip was short not an inflection. The general pattern with major innovations is the sigmoid curve: rapid exponential growth, then a slowing down as you near saturation.

    For solar, saturation is the practical limit to its share of all generation, given the need for reliable supply, even if it becomes much the cheapest source in LCOE. If we pencil in world useful energy consumption at 100,000 terawatt-hours (after waste), that makes 11 terawatts continuous. Getting 60% of that from solar at 10% capacity factor, you would need 66 terawatts of nameplate solar. (I assume all energy is electric by then.) You’d expect the growth curve to slow after 40 TW or so. These are the roughest of back-of-the envelope calculations, but unless I’ve screwed them up, they suggest an order of magnitude.

  • Great read. These are surely conservative figures for the residential sector, but it seems to check out. As we fast approach the mass adoption phase until 2035, fueled by rising utility costs and panel pricing drops, another 150 million homes going solar seems rather conservative. As Werner mentioned we have barely scratched the surface of global electricity demand, but solar powering the 10% of global electricity by 2035 is not surprising considering the adoption rate.

  • cumfy

    This capacity estimate seems wildly conservative by a factor of 10 or more.
    Also they are costing at $2/W, when will likely be at most $1/W perhaps $0.7/W

    They are saying 80-100 GW/year for 20 years.
    I would expect to get 30-50% CAGR for the next 10+ years, looking at .7-2.5 TW/year, 10-30 times their estimate.

    By 2035 I would anticipate 10-40 TW total capacity, with a $8-30Tn cost.

  • MrL0g1c

    Looks pretty linear to me, I’d expect sales of PV to grow exponentially for a while yet because further panel price drops are guaranteed*, leading to solar PV being beneficial to residents worldwide without subsidy. The only thing that will hold back PV will be the speed they can make them!

    *Given that new factories are being built – once the investment into the new factories is paid off there should be further price drops.

    • Matt

      Yes second graphic is off. Flat 15-30 then faster flat 30-35. Even if only do it in 5 year block. Each 5 year period wold install more than the last.

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