In my recent series of posts prognosticating the trajectory of climate change during this century, I basically project that we are still in for a lot of warming due to huge increases in energy consumption, but that we will be ‘rescued’ by the growth of energy delivered by renewable sources, primarily solar.
I have nothing against wind, biofuels or hydropower. I’m sure they will grow and make valuable contributions.
But I can see what is happening in solar and I can connect it to the growth of past transformative technologies. I have faith in its growth.
Faith is kind of a dirty word when talking science and technology, but really–we all take actions based on trust or belief rather than checking every fact and item, else we would never board a commercial airline or eat a Big Mac.
Installations were 29 GW in 2012. In 2007 installations were 5 GW. In 2002 they were less than 1 GW. The global total is now over 100 GW in capacity.
That’s an asterisk in global production, amounting to less than 0.4% of electricity generated.
Solar power has been growing by 30% annually for the past two decades. If it continued to grow at that rate we would have 41,754 Terawatts in capacity.
I think we’d run out of sand first. At any rate it would be more electricity than we would actually need, even with growing population and higher living standards. About ten times as much, even accepting my outlandish projection of a need for 3,000 quads by 2075.
Let’s assume that last year’s disappointing 5% growth is what will happen over the coming years. By 2035 we get 307 GW, by 2050 it grows to 639 GW and by 2075 it hits 2,162 GW. That’s a lot of clean energy, even at the slowest growth rate solar has experienced since it was invented. And by the end of the century it reaches 7,322 GW.
The ‘inside baseball story’ is worth mentioning briefly:
- Last year is considered a disappointment for the solar industry. In 2012 it only grew by 5%. On the other hand, 30% of all the solar ever installed was installed last year–29 GW worth.
- Installations faltered in Europe in general and Germany specifically, but picked up in China, which became the largest customer for solar, largely of their own products. As recently as 2011, China exported 95% of the solar modules they produced. Last year that dropped to 70%. Europe is still by far the largest market for solar power, double the size of Asia and five times as big as the Americas.
- One-third of all the solar installed in the Americas is installed in California.
- There is still more manufacturing capacity than is being used for production. Without adding any more plants we could install 40 GW a year.
- Oh, yes–industry analysts predict a return to high growth in 2013–as much as 20%. Or more.