President Trump talks a great game when it comes to US coal miners and coal jobs but he sure is walking the renewables walk. The latest item in the flood of renewable energy news pouring from the Energy Department since Inauguration Day is a new study that charts a do-able path for global energy producers to harvest 5-10 terawatts of solar power by 2030.
That’s quite a big feat considering that the current scope of global solar generation is still measured in gigawatts, but then again President Trump is known to be a huge fan of the bigly.
Solar Power And Global Electricity Consumption
For those of you keeping score at home, a terawatt is 1,000 gigawatts. A gigawatt is 1,000 megawatts or one billion watts.
So yes, 10 terawatts is a heckuva lot of electricity. It’s not enough to fulfill global demand, which hung around 15 terawatts as of 2015, but wind power and other renewables could fill in the rest.
By way of comparison, last fall the International Energy Agency issued a report that pegged global renewables at only 153 gigawatts in 2015, including wind and other sources as well as solar.
IEA has some nice things to say about the growth rate of renewable sources, but the agency is still looking at only 200 gigawatts by 2020 — and again, that includes a healthy dose of wind and other renewables.
10 Terawatts By 2030?
So, how does the Trump Administration expect everybody to make up the difference?
That’s where something called GASERI comes in. GASERI is the Global Alliance of Solar Energy Research Institutions, consisting of the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, and Japan’s Research Center for Photovoltaic Technologies.
Okay, so there are only three members, but those three pack a huge punch. Here’s the CleanTechnica take from 2012, when GASERI was launched:
Forget your Avengers, your X-Men and your other super-groups (yes, we’re talking about you, Queens of the Stone Age), if there is any planet saving to be done from now on it will be accomplished by the new Global Alliance of Solar Energy Research Institutions.
As articulated by NREL, the organization’s mission is to “accelerate progress toward shared solar research and development goals as well as to ensure sustainable long-term use of solar energy.”
GASERI met right around this time last year to tease out some of the obstacles facing solar deployment.
Here’s the takeaway:
…To provide a major contribution to global climate goals, total installations on the order of 20 TW will be needed by 2040. This will require stable PV R&D support worldwide and systemic investments targeted at reducing production costs, increasing efficiency, and improving reliability.
An increasingly flexible electricity grid, increased availability of low-cost energy storage and demand-side management also will play key roles in enabling accelerated PV deployment…
Did you catch that thing about “stable PV R&D support?” US Energy Secretary Rick Perry has taken his share of hits on social issues, but in his brief tenure so far the Energy Department has been firing on all pistons with renewable energy news including foundational research on solar cells, renewable hydrogen, and energy storage among many other topics.
Yes, 10 Terawatts By 2030
An NREL press release dated April 18 outlines the new solar report, produced under the GASERI umbrella.
The gist of it is that under favorable conditions, global solar capacity has the potential to climb into the 5-10 terawatt range.
These are the conditions:
◊ A continued reduction in the cost of PV while also improving the performance of solar modules
◊ A drop in the cost of and time required to expand manufacturing and installation capacity
◊ A move to more flexible grids that can handle high levels of PV through increased load shifting, energy storage, or transmission
◊ An increase in demand for electricity by using more for transportation and heating or cooling
◊ Continued progress in storage for energy generated by solar power.
Notice how they slipped that thing about increased demand in there. Apparently GASERI is not banking on gains in building energy efficiency to counterbalance the rise of EVs in transportation.
Everything else seems pretty doable, right? Regardless of Trump Administration policies, global PV costs will continue to drop and conversion efficiency will continue to improve.
A move to reduce solar installation “soft costs” is well under way, manufacturing processes are being streamlined (partly thanks to the rise of thin film solar), load shifting and other “smart grid” strategies are being deployed, and an energy storage revolution is brewing.
The biggest question is whether or not the US will put the full force of public policy behind the global effort to accelerate decarbonization.
You can get all the details in the journal Science under the title “Terawatt-scale photovoltaics: Trajectories and challenges.“
No, Really, 10 Terawatts By 2030
Speaking of public policy, the timing of the GASERI solar announcement is rather interesting.
The day before NREL’s press release, the Intertubes were all ablaze with news that Perry has ordered a review of the nation’s electrical grid, presumably on marching orders from President Trump.
Some observers have taken that to mean that coal and nuclear energy will come out on top, but we think not.
GASERI issued a policy recap in the last weeks of the Obama Administration that noted the rise of distributed generation and the role of small scale solar, and so far the Trump Administration’s Energy Department has not indicated any intention of diverging too far from that pathway.
To cite just one example, in February the Energy Department announced a new $30 million round of funding for innovative technologies aimed at bringing more solar into the US grid mix.
Last week NREL hosted the Industry Growth Forum for clean energy technology at its facility in Colorado with 400 stakeholders attending. Here’s the money quote from NREL:
“The convergence of R&D success, entrepreneurial innovation, and a receptive investment community will accelerate advanced energy technologies into the marketplace…We are pleased to be able to leverage the convening power of the laboratory to facilitate this essential discourse.”
Also, just in time for the March for Science, this week the Energy Department’s Grid Modernization Initiative is staging a public peer review of 80 projects with the aim of developing best practices and lessons learned.
And, next week the global organization IEEE (the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) is hosting the 8th annual Innovative Smart Grid Technologies Conference in Washington, DC. One area of focus will be on integrating distributed energy sources.
IEEE bills itself as “the world’s largest technical professional society” so there’s that.
Secretary Perry generally toes the Republican line but so far he has kept the Trump Administration’s Energy Department humming along with a steady stream of news about renewable energy. The agency’s main News & Blog page is rather thin but NREL, SunShot, EERE and other divisions keep churning out the good stuff.
Until the budget axe falls, it looks like the US is still on track to cooperate with the global push for decarbonization.
Photo (cropped): hybrid perovskite solar cells via NREL.
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