Can renewable energy power the world?
Can renewable energy power the world?

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Can renewable energy power the world?

3.10 The growing world PV market

In the decade to 2010 world installed PV capacity grew extremely rapidly - from some 1.5 GW in 2000 to just under 40 GW in 2010 (EPIA, 2011). This growth rate implies a doubling of world PV production every two to three years. Approximately three-quarters of this capacity is currently installed in the EU, with other countries and regions having considerably smaller shares.

Crystalline silicon still dominates PV technology in the marketplace, and in 2010 monocrystalline and polycrystalline modules accounted for some 27 GW of world production capacity.

Medium-term projections of the world PV market by the European Photovoltaics Industry Association (EPIA, 2014) suggest that strong growth is likely to continue, resulting in between 320 GW and 430 GW of installed capacity by 2018 (see Figure 15). By this point, the EU’s share is likely to have reduced significantly, due to strong growth in the Asia-Pacific region.

Figure 15 Growth in cumulative global photovoltaics capacity, 2003 to 2018. Source, EPIA 2014

Looking much further ahead, to 2050, the International Energy Agency, in its 2014 Energy Technology Perspectives report (IEA, 2014) has produced a number of 'Two Degree Scenarios' (2DS) illustrating the measures the world needs to adopt if the increase in global surface temperature is to be limited to two degrees. In one of these, the Two Degree High Renewables (2DS hi-Ren) scenario shown in Figure 16, the share of PV electricity generation capacity rises to over 6,000 Terawatt-hours, supplying some 18% of projected world electricity, by 2050.

Figure 16 Growth of World PV generation 2011-2050 in the High renewables version of the IEA Two Degree Scenario (2DS hi-Ren)

Long-term expert projections such as those of the EPIA, the IEA, and in the UK the Climate Change Committee, are subject to a very wide range of uncertainty.

Nevertheless, the future prospects of photovoltaics as a clean, renewable source of energy for the world by mid-century do seem bright.

For an inspiring – and literally uplifting – symbol of the rising hopes of the global PV industry: have a look at the ‘Solar Impulse’ project shown in Figure 17. This solar PV-powered single-seat aircraft is powered by some 11 625 monocrystalline PV cells of 22% efficiency, mounted on the wings and tail. Four 7.5 kW electric motors drive the propellers and electrical storage is provided by lithium polymer batteries. This aircraft has successfully completed flights of increasing duration in Europe, with the project leaders having the ultimate aim of a PV-powered round-the-world flight.

Figure 17 The Solar Impulse, a PV-powered single-seater aircraft. (Solar Impulse, 2011b)

The leaders of the project, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, don’t see PV powered aircraft replacing conventional aircraft in the foreseeable future. On landing after Solar Impulse’s first international flight, Piccard indicated that the project’s goal was not to cause a revolution in aviation: its aim was to promote a revolution in the mindset of people when they think about renewable energy, energy saving and new technologies (Solar Impulse, 2011a).

Next you can have a go at the Week 3 quiz.

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