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A new article in the journal Science suggests that terawatt-scale solar power could disrupt the global energy market and become a key energy source for the future.
Having reached 500 GW globally in solar power by the end of 2018, we can double that number by 2023, entering an era of “terawatt-scale solar” with exponential growth, according to a team of experts from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. , the California Institute of Technology, MIT and 24 other leading institutions.
Whereas just two years ago 10 TW solar by 2030 sounded like a dream, it is now a goal that we can confidently aim for and even go further, the team suggests. The authors predict a solar capacity of up to 70 TW globally by 2050, which would make it a powerful force in a global transition to renewables.
However, to support such a large-scale transition to solar will require action in multiple areas.
First of all, it is about the rapid diffusion of key technologies such as virtual oscillation controllers, energy storage capacity and smart grids to improve power system integration and increase the attractiveness of solar power among stakeholders. Solar power will also have to improve its reliability and ensure a 24/7 fail-safe provision with effective supply and demand management.
The good news is that technological developments in solar energy storage are coming fast, while prices have been falling to record lows. With the development of new, more profitable energy storage options, the trend is likely to continue.
Electrification of various sectors will be another field of action, with transportation, heating / cooling and industry leading the way. Previous research suggests that electrifying 70% of passenger transport by 2050 is entirely possible. The introduction of renewable energy in steel production and other heavy industries can also go a long way towards reducing emissions.
A relatively new area to explore is the storage of solar electricity by electrolysis in chemical fuels, allowing for longer and cheaper storage. This would allow solar energy to go beyond electricity-dependent industries and take advantage of improved biofuels, fertilizer production, metal refining and the generation of synthetic fuels.
Finally, we will need to keep the innovation curve as high as ever, paying particular attention to addressing resource scarcity, increasing the life of PV, and ensuring an effective circular economy for all equipment and materials involved.
The authors are confident that if all the necessary conditions come into play, we can confidently look to a future powered by clean and renewable energy.