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Published on May 15th, 2015 | by Glenn Meyers


Solar A Long-Term Energy Solution, States MIT Study

May 15th, 2015 by  

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.

solar panel reflection shutterstock_178810610According to the MIT study, the main goal of US solar policy should be to build the foundation for a massive scale-up of private and utility scale solar generation over the next few decades.

“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.

Image: Power plant using renewable solar energy via Shutterstock

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About the Author

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

  • Mike Dill

    Since the 1880’s mines have not been taxable as ‘improvements’ in the USA. We need to put in place a similar law so that renewable power is not taxable. Either that, or change the laws so that the mines (and drill holes) are taxed.

  • Marion Meads

    Why make this a long term solution? If we stopped subsidizing the fossil fuel industry and use the money on solar, everyone would have free energy by 2050, and it can be implemented starting now. Imagine $548 Billion/year diverted from the taxpayers into the pockets of the fossil fuel tycoons, now to be used on projects that will save the world and remove energy poverty forever.

    There is no additional cost to all of us by simply diverting the money subsidies. Imagine what you can do with $19 Trillion that is already available (thru 2050) from the fossil fuel industry subsidies.

    • dcard88

      I doubt the $548 figure is correct, but your idea still works. If we could just get 10% of your number diverted to renewables of all types, we could get there in 20 years, and with some new techno advances (probable) maybe even 15 years.

    • CR

      While I support the idea of using fossil fuel subsidies on renewables instead, your claim that there “is no additional cost to all of us by simply diverting the money subsidies” is incorrect. In the short term it would likely lead to higher electricity prices, since it takes time before a sufficient amount of renewable generation would become online. Unfortunately many governments are quite focused on the short term.

      We also need to solve storage at some point, or prices may be higher due to gas peakers displacing “baseload” coal, but I’m not overly concerned about that. Using some of the renewables dollars on storage R&D should help.

    • Brooks Bridges

      Good point. And what about the $700 billion fossil fuel companies spent in 2014 looking for new sources of oil?

      When it’s well established we can’t begin to burn all the sources we know about?

      And this link

      points out that with current oil prices, the new sources aren’t even economically feasible to develop – prices need to be over $80-$90 a barrel.

    • Matt

      While the $548 figure is a global number, I think it is only direct. It doesn’t could indirect things like special corp type for pipeline, etc. It is also very small compared to the health impact, US only is .3T-.5T/year on that one. So add a sin tax to carbon, simple fee/dividend. And we even more market correction.

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