Solar electricity could represent up to 20 to 25 per cent of global electricity production by 2050 according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The finding emerged from two new analyses by the IEA: the solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) roadmaps, launched in Valencia, Spain during the Mediterranean Solar Plan Conference hosted by the Spanish presidency of the European Union.
Solar power currently accounts for just 0.5 per cent of world supply. The IEA believe this must grow significantly in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels, but it needs government lifelines in the next decade until it can compete with conventional power reported Reuters.
“Without decisive action, energy-related emissions of CO2 will more than double by 2050 and increased oil demand will heighten concerns over the security of supplies,” an IEA report said.
Leading solar producers like Spain and Germany pay solar plants feed-in tariffs, a subsidy designed to gradually cut the technology’s costs to the level of conventional power, a condition known as “grid parity.” The IEA adviser to industrialized nations on energy policy said that with effective policies in place, PV on residential and commercial buildings will achieve grid parity by 2020 in many regions, and will become competitive at utility-scale in the sunniest regions by 2030, providing five per cent of global electricity.
PV technology directly converts the sun’s rays into electricity, whereas CSP plants collect sunshine to boil water and drive an electricity generator. As PV matures into a mainstream technology, grid integration and management, and energy storage become key issues. The PV industry, grid operators and utilities will need to develop new technologies and strategies to integrate large amounts of PV into flexible, efficient and smart grids. By 2050, PV could provide more than 11 per cent of global electricity.
The IEA expects CSP to become competitive for peak and mid-peak loads by 2020 in the sunniest places if appropriate policies are adopted. Its further expansion will depend on the development of dedicated transport lines that will bring CSP electricity to a greater number of large consumption centers. Some of them will have to be developed within large countries such as China, India and the USA. Others will cross borders, and many will be needed to link the southern and northern shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
Thanks to thermal storage, CSP can produce electricity around the clock and will become competitive with base load power by 2025 to 2030. According to the IEAs roadmap, North America will be the largest producer of CSP electricity, followed by North Africa and India. North Africa would most likely export about half its production to Europe, the second largest consumer. The overall contribution of CSP could – like that of PV – represent 11 per cent or more of the global electricity demand by 2050. However, the German and Spanish governments have already announced that they will cut back on feed-in tariffs, which has sent solar power stocks tumbling across the world.
“The problem is to give a clearer predictable future, a gradual decline (in subsidies),” IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka said in an interview. “Without decline you cannot give an incentive for the industry to innovate. Just providing subsidies doesn’t make sense.”
The IEA estimates that solar power output in 2010 will be 37 TWh, almost all of it from PV plants, which it expects to account for 5 per cent of global electricity by 2030.
Few CSP plants have been built yet, but they can produce much more than PV installations. The IEA predicts they will account for 5 per cent of electricity consumption by 2020 in parts of Central Asia, India, Latin America and the United States.
Between them, the IEA says CSP and PV can provide 2.3 per cent of the world’s power by 2020, rising to 8.8 per cent in 2030, when grid parity kicks in, and by 2050 can provide 9000 TWh of electricity, or almost a quarter of global demand. The IEA estimates this will cut carbon emissions by almost 6bn tons.
Mr. Tanaka said: “Solar PV and CSP appear to be complementary more than competing. The firm capacity and flexibility of CSP plants will help grid operators integrate larger amounts of variable renewable electricity such as solar PV and wind power. PV will expand under a broader range of climate conditions and bring clean renewable electricity directly to end-users.”