Many of us already believed solar power was one of our best options as a long-term energy solution. Now a massive study on solar power by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has come to two primary conclusions: solar energy holds the best potential for meeting the planet’s long-term energy needs while reducing greenhouse gases, and federal and state governments must do more to promote development of this renewable energy source.
“Our objective has been to assess solar energy’s current and potential competitive position and to identify changes in US government policies that could more efficiently and effectively support its massive deployment over the long term, which we view as necessary,” says MITEI Director Robert Armstrong, the Chevron Professor in Chemical Engineering at MIT.
The study shows that our focus needs to shift toward new technologies and policies that have the potential to make solar a compelling economic option, pointed out Richard Schmalensee, Professor Emeritus of Economics and Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
Federal and state subsidy programs designed to encourage investment in solar systems should be reviewed with an eye on increasing their cost-effectiveness and with a greater emphasis on rewarding production of solar energy, the study said. Internationally, Germany’s support for solar energy use through feed-in tariffs is regarded as a showcase.
In the United States, the federal government’s solar investment tax credit (ITC) passed in 2008, but is set to expire next year. It offered a 30% tax credit for residential and business installations for solar energy. When it expires in 2016, the tax credit will drop to a more permanent 10%. This will likely dim interest in renewable energy platforms like solar.
To understand all parameters, the MIT Energy Initiative provides a 356-page report, The Future of Solar Energy, on Monday. The study found that even with today’s crystalline silicon PV technologies, the industry could achieve terawatt-scale deployment of solar power by 2050 without major technological advances.
The study focused on three challenges to achieving that goal: developing new solar technologies, integrating solar generation at large scale into existing electric systems, and designing efficient policies to support solar tech deployment.
“Massive expansion of solar generation worldwide by mid-century is likely a necessary component of any serious strategy to mitigate climate change,” the study concluded. “Fortunately, the solar resource dwarfs current and projected future electricity demand. In recent years, solar costs have fallen substantially and installed capacity has grown very rapidly.”
MITEI released The Future of Solar Energy study on May 5, 2015. To see the video, go here.
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