Solar power could provide up to a quarter of the world's electricity needs by 2050 if countries put in place long-term policies to support early deployment and sustained technology innovation, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The IEA yesterday (11 May) released technology roadmaps for solar photovoltaic (PV), which generates electricity using solar panels, and concentrating solar power (CSP), which collects sunlight with giant mirrors and focuses it on a liquid to produce steam that then drives a turbine.
It estimates that each technology has the potential to supply more than 11% of global electricity by mid-century, offering combined savings of nearly 60 billion tonnes of CO2 per year by 2050.
The IEA, however, assumes lower growth rates than the industry is expecting. Its PV roadmap estimates that the annual market growth rate will be 17% over the next decade, while the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) said last month it expected global cumulative capacity to grow by at least 40% in 2010 (EurActiv 01/04/10).
Provided that the appropriate political frameworks are put in place, solar PV could become competitive with fossil fuels on residential and commercial buildings by 2020 in many regions and at utility scale by 2030 in the sunniest regions, the documents show. CSP could become competitive for peak and mid-peak loads by 2020 in the sunniest places.
But rather than competing with each other, the IEA argues that the two technologies are complementary. While PV technology employing solar panels will mainly be used for on-grid distributed generation, CSP will involve utility-scale production in sunny areas, from where it can be transported to population centres.
"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," said Nobuo Tanaka, IEA executive director.