Solar energy is poised to challenge fossil fuels as the most economical form of power generation on the planet, with the installed capacity of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems expected to rise dramatically.
According to a solar expert from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), the world’s largest technical association, “Solar PV will be a game changer,” says James Prendergast, IEEE Senior Member and IEEE Executive Director. “No other alternative source has the same potential.”
The Sun offers a plentiful bounty, hitting the earth with about 100 petawatts (one petawatt = 1,000 terawatts) of energy. Just 15 terawatts of that amount needs to be tapped in order to supply the entire global population with clean, renewable electricity.
Prendergast believes that as the pace of innovation in solar technology rises, installation and manufacturing costs will tumble, leading to massive market uptake of solar panels, with the possibility of demand outstripping supply.
The IEEE cites International Energy Agency findings that by 2050, solar PV will account for 11 percent of global electricity production, corresponding to 3,000 gigawatts of cumulative installed capacity and equivalent to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2.3 gigatons – nearly the emissions generated by the combined populations of Russia and Japan.
However, for now, the industry cannot afford to rest on its laurels. Although the supply of essential silicon has increased substantially, along with advancements in materials for residential solar PV systems and large-scale concentrated PV, challenges remain for building highly efficient, low-cost PV systems.
Professor Steven Ringel, IEEE Senior Member and Director of the Institute for Materials Research at The Ohio State University, says competition between solar companies will continue to drive innovation in the field.
“Currently, we have promising technologies that are very high efficiency but with higher cost, as well as low efficiency technologies at lower cost. The technologies that will prevail will combine the best of both, delivering the greatest efficiency at the lowest cost.”