Energy Crunch – a solar future?

October 3, 2014

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

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Solar panels image via rickety/flickr. Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Three things you shouldn’t miss this week

  1. Chart: Rapid global growth in solar capacity:
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  1. Article: Solar could beat coal as world’s top power source by 2050, says IEA – The IEA says world to add 200 gigawatts of solar power every year from 2025 onwards under the right policies, more than the entire stock in the world today.
  1. Video: How community groups are generating their own energy
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Solar power could replace coal as the world’s biggest source of electricity by 2050. That’s according to a new report this week from the International Energy Agency (IEA).
In its most optimistic scenario the IEA roadmap shows solar energy capacity growing from 135 gigawatts (GW) today to 4,674 GW in 2050 – equivalent to more than four times the current total generating capacity of China or the US, and enough to provide 16% of future global energy demand. A further 11% would come from solar thermal plants.
Until recently such a claim would have seemed entirely incredible, but the cost of solar has plunged by two thirds over the past few years, and is already competitive with fossil fuels without subsidy in some sunnier countries, such as Italy, Australia and California in the US. The rapid growth in solar capacity is already upending the traditional utility business model in Germany, Japan, Australia and the US. It’s also encouraging that in the US solar appears to have escaped the partisan politics paralysing other areas of climate policy.
The IEA report is a roadmap, not a prediction, which assumes a continued fall in solar panel production and installation costs, and that governments will put a price on carbon to encourage massive green investment. But the party conference season here in Britain does not appear to support the IEA’s optimism.
A sole tweet from David Cameron sought to capture the mood of last week’s largest ever global climate protests, but green initiatives were notable only for their absence from Chancellor George Osborne’s party conference speech, which instead committed a future Tory government to more fracking, roads and runways.
Labour’s Ed Miliband claimed that for him there is ‘no more important issue’ than tackling climate change, but the only supporting evidence to emerge from the Labour party conference was a new energy efficiency plan, including raising the energy efficiency of 5 million homes within ten years –reviewed here at Carbon Brief. A good start if they can pull it off, but it falls short of the long-term vision and strategy we need from Westminster. Miguel Arias Cañete’s possible nomination as Europe’s next climate and energy commissioner – despite professional and personal links to the oil industry – suggests similar problems at EU level.
If you’re tired of waiting for the politicians to catch up, and would like to do your bit to make solar the biggest source of electricity, you could start by signing the solar petition, and watching this community energy video.
Related Reports and Commentary
Technology Roadmap: Solar Photovoltaic Energy – International Energy Agency
Technology Roadmap: Solar Thermal Electricity – International Energy Agency
How to Achieve 100% Renewable Energy – World Future Council


Energy Crunch staff

The Energy Crunch team is Simone Osborn, David Strahan, Griffin Carpenter, Stephen Devlin, Aniol Esteban, Tim Jenkins.

nef is a UK's leading think tank promoting social, economic and environmental justice. nef's purpose is to bring about a Great Transition – to transform the economy so that it works for people and the planet.

Tags: Energy Policy, IEA, Renewable Energy, Solar Energy