Solar power has been around for some time but as the technology has evolved and more people realize that this alternative energy source offers a solution for future needs, the industry has been stealthily gathering momentum.
Here is a look at what is driving the solar energy revolution, plus an insight into how it could become the major source of electricity in the near future, what part governments will play in boosting the industry, plus an outline of what needs to happen to meet some ambitious future energy targets.
The future of global energy
The last decade has been an exciting one for anyone invested in or with some interest in solar energy, as this has been a period where the costs of delivering electricity to the end-user have dropped significantly, allowing volume and usage to rise noticeably.
At the current rate of growth and as the world awakens to the fact that fossil fuels have an end date, it is not an unreasonable prediction to suggest that the sun could be the leading source of electricity within the next thirty years, or sooner.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently reported that they believe solar photovoltaic systems (PV) could conceivably be responsible for generating more than 15% of the planet’s electricity by 2050.
In addition to PV systems, solar thermal electricity (STE) from concentrating solar power plants could contribute over 10% to the world’s electricity requirements within the same timespan.
Another positive factor to consider in light of these predictions is that if the figures are accurate, our increasing reliance on solar technologies will mean that we will be reducing carbon dioxide emissions by more than six million tons per year across the globe.
That alone is a target worth aiming for by 2050, as it is a similar emissions figure to the current energy-related emissions seen in the U.S presently.
More government help will be needed
There are technological advancements happening in the solar power industry that promises more efficient and cost-effective ways of harnessing the sun’s energy, and you can read about some of those developments by reading an energy investor insight at https://oilandenergyinvestor.com/2015/07/get-ready-for-the-next-advance-in-solar-energy/.
There are several things that need to happen if the IEA future predictions are going to become reality, and one of the fundamental barriers to growth in this energy sector is government attitudes.
A usage target of 15% over the next thirty years will be almost impossible to achieve with any degree of comfort if governments around the world don’t change their stance and their policies regarding solar energy.
Solar energy is currently responsible for just 1% of the world’s energy needs, so you can see that this is an industry that could still be classed as being in its infancy when you look at the global picture.
It needs a helping hand from government bodies in the form of subsidies and tax incentives in order to attract the investment in technology and infrastructure required to meet ambitious energy targets.
However, not everyone believes that the only way the solar industry can prosper is with government help.
You can find certain geographical locations where the sun is at its strongest where the cost of generating solar power is lower than fossil fuel electricity, without the need for subsidies. Not everywhere on the planet enjoys that sort of level of sunshine, so there are always going to be parts of the United States, for example, where subsidies are needed to balance harvesting costs.
Economic efficiency is the key to success
There is a fair argument to suggest that if the solar energy industry has only managed to get to 1% of global power supply at this point, despite some huge subsidies and incentivized investments, it is going to take far too much money to do what is necessary to reach a target of 15%.
There are several key factors that are pivotal to the growth of solar power.
There will need to be a major investment program to increase the number of solar panels installed. In addition, research and technology need to evolve further so that we continue to find new ways to increase our ability to harvest and store energy from the sun.
That is one of the key points. Increasing storage capacity from the existing infrastructure and then being able to build more efficient units in future, will keep costs down and improve output at the same time.
Finally, there has to be money spent in increasing transmission lines so that it is easier and more efficient to transport energy from its original source into people’s homes.
If the industry can achieve these aims, that global energy target may start to look achievable.
David Roberts works as a personal finance consultant. He also enjoys helping others by posting his insights on various personal finance and investing blogs.