Solar could provide up to 13% of global electricity by 2030, reports reveal

Off the back of a year of record growth for the solar sector, a flurry of new reports this week have illustrated how a "booming" industry has paved way for a cost-leading power generation technology which could dramatically increase in capacity in the near future.

According to one new report from the International Renewable Energy (IRENA), the share of global electricity generated by solar PV could increase from the current level of 2% to as much as 13% by 2030. 

The Letting in the Light: How Solar Photovoltaics Will Revolutionize the Electricity System report finds the solar industry is poised for a huge expansion in the next 15 years, driven primarily by cost reductions. 

The IRENA researchers suggest that the record low prices of solar PV set in countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Peru and Mexico indicate a continued trend and potential for further price falls.

“Recent analysis from IRENA finds that cost reductions for solar and wind will continue into the future, with further declines of up to 59% possible for solar PV in the next ten years,” said IRENA director-general Adnan Z. Amin. “This comprehensive overview of the solar industry finds that these cost reductions, in combination with other enabling factors, can create a dramatic expansion of solar power globally. The renewable energy transition is well underway, with solar playing a central role.” 

Average annual capacity additions will need to more than double for the next 14 years for the 13% target to be reached. The report states that this will require a selection of fundamental market changes such as updated policies based on the latest innovations, the creation of a global standards frameworks and the adoption of enabling technologies like smart grids and storage

“World electricity demand is expected to grow by more than 50% cent by 2030, mostly in developing and emerging economies,” said Mr. Amin. “To meet this demand while also realising global development and sustainability goals, governments must implement policies that enable solar to achieve its full potential.” 

‘Upward trend’

The tumbling costs of solar have been creating thousands of jobs and driving installations across the world in the process. Earlier in the week, SolarPower Europe released its own flagship market report, which revealed that a total of 229GW of solar power was installed globally by the end of 2015, a more than 45-fold market increase in just 10 years.  

The report shows that China, Japan and the US again led the world’s solar market in 2015, with China and Japan alone responsible for 50% of newly installed capacity. The last twelve months also marked a growth year for the European solar market with 8.2 GW of grid-connected solar power, the publication found. While the EU market grew by 15% on the previous year, SolarPower Europe has warned that demand on the continent is likely to fall in the upcoming years, thanks mainly due to the UK Government’s decision to cut solar power subsidies.

SolarPower Europe chief executive James Watson said: “While this is the first upward trend since 2011, it is likely that demand on the European continent will slow down, primarily due to the termination of support for utility-scale solar in the UK. What European solar needs now is the right electricity market design.” 

The Power to Change

The IRENA Letting in the Light report is the third solar-focused publication released by the organisation this summer. Earlier this week, its end of-Life Management: Solar Photovoltaic Panels report End-of-life report revealed that solar PV material recovery could be worth $15bn by 2050, if fully invested back into the economy. 

Last week, the organisation released The Power to Change, which predicts that average costs for electricity generated by solar and wind technologies could decrease by 59% by 2025. 

The documents are the latest in a list of reports which suggest that solar technology is set to establish itself as a vital component in the future of green energy transformation. For instance, a REN21 publication revealed that solar PV experienced another year of record growth in 2015, with the annual market for new capacity up 25% over 2014.

George Ogleby

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