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Solar power could produce 25% of global electricity by 2050, studies say

May 12, 2010 |  3:21 pm

Solar
By 2050, the world could be getting a quarter of its electricity from solar power, the International Energy Agency said Wednesday.

Releasing two “roadmaps” for photovoltaics technology and concentrating solar power, the agency said that the two technologies could generate 9,000 terawatt hours of energy within four decades.

At the Mediterranean Solar Plan Conference in Valencia, Spain, agency officials said that the combination could enhance energy security while cutting carbon dioxide emissions by almost 6 billion metric tons per year by 2050. That’s the equivalent weight of nearly 900 million male elephants.

Concentrating solar power, which focuses solar radiation onto a small area and is usually applied in large-scale plants under clear skies and bright sun, will be dominated by sunny regions such as North America, North Africa and India. The agency’s Renewable Energy Division said it will be able to compete with coal and nuclear power plants by 2030.

The technology is currently responsible for just 0.1% of electricity generation around the world.

The study, which was requested by the G8 member nations in a 2008 meeting as part of a series of 19 energy technologies, covers the science, financing and policy necessary to make photovoltaics an integral part of the global power infrastructure.

Solar photovoltaics generate electricity by converting sunlight using arrays of cells.

The agency recommends that governments establish long-term targets and policies around the technology to encourage investments and installations. Incentives and financing schemes, such as funding opportunities for rural projects in developing countries, would also help.

Right now, just four countries can produce more than 1 gigawatt from installed photovoltaics systems: Germany, Spain, Japan and the U.S. But countries such as Australia, China, France, Greece and India are catching up.

In many regions by 2020, power from photovoltaics is expected to be about as cheap as electricity from existing sources – a pricing point known as grid parity.

Global photovoltaics capacity has already been ballooning by an average of 40% each year since 2000. And public expenditures around the world for photovoltaics research and development have doubled over the same period from $250 million in 2000 to $500 million in 2007.

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: A solar module on the production line at the Miasole production facility in Sunnyvale, Calif. Credit: Dave Getzschman.

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