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Solar to generate 20%-25% of global electricity by 2050

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has released roadmaps for solar PV and concentrating solar power (CSP), predicting that the two solar technologies could generate 9000 TWh of green power in 2050.

“The combination of solar photovoltaics and concentrating solar power offers considerable prospects for enhancing energy security while reducing energy-related CO2 emissions by almost 6 billion tonnes per year by 2050,” says IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka.

The reports were released in Valencia, Spain during the Mediterranean Solar Plan conference hosted by the Spanish presidency of the EU.

The roadmaps detail the technology milestones that would allow solar PV and CSP to provide one-quarter of the world’s electricity, noting that the two technologies will deploy in different yet complementary ways.

The niche for solar PV will be in on-grid distributed generation and off-grid rural areas, while CSP will provide dispatchable power at utility scale from regions with bright sun and clear skies.

“This decade is crucial for effective policies to enable the development of solar electricity,” says Tanaka. “Long-term oriented, predictable solar-specific incentives are needed to sustain early deployment and bring both technologies to competitiveness in the most suitable locations and times.”

Incentives will need to evolve over time to foster innovation and technology improvements. To support cost reductions and longer-term breakthroughs, governments need to ensure long-term funding for additional research, development and demonstration efforts.

Solar PV to reach grid parity by 2020

With effective policies, solar PV on residential and commercial buildings will achieve parity by 2020 in many regions, compared with retail prices for grid power. Solar PV will become competitive at utility-scale in the sunniest regions by 2030 and provide 5% of global electricity.

As solar PV matures into a mainstream energy technology, grid integration and energy storage become key issues, and the solar industry and utilities will need to develop new technologies and strategies to integrate large amounts of solar PV into flexible, efficient and smart grids.

By 2050, solar PV could provide more than 11% of global electricity.

CSP to complement solar PV

CSP could become competitive for peak and mid-peak loads by 2020 if appropriate policies are adopted, and further expansion will depend on the development of dedicated transport lines that will bring CSP electricity to large consumption centres. Due to its thermal storage, CSP can generate electricity around the clock and will become competitive with base load power by 2025 to 2030.

North America will be the largest producer of CSP, followed by North Africa and India. North Africa would export half its production to Europe, and the overall contribution of CSP could reach 11% of global power demand by 2050.

“Solar PV and CSP appear to be complementary more than competing,” says Tanaka. “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.”

The solar roadmaps are part of a series of reports from the IEA to provide guidance on the development of low-carbon technologies. It has released similar reports on wind energy, biofuels, electric vehicles, carbon capture & storage, and industrial processes; future reports will address geothermal, nuclear, low-carbon buildings and smart grids.

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