REC calls for more solar to close COP21 gap

Citing a new internal study, solar PV group REC said on Wednesday that to be on track by 2025 to close the emissions gap and avoid further accelerating climate change impacts, the necessary solar capacity ramp-up could be far larger than industry analysts today expect, resulting in up to 4.8 TW above current forecast of cumulated new solar capacity by 2025.

Part of the study, which REC will present at next month’s Intersolar Europe in Munich, examined the shortfall in many countries around the world between renewable energy commitments and emission reduction targets.

The German power sector, for example, will have to reduce emissions by 1.152 gigatonnes (Gt) by 2025 (equivalent to taking 50 million cars off the road) to be on track to ensure the global temperature rise remains below 1.5ºC — the target reached at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) last year.

REC argues that Germany would have to almost fully eliminate coal – which still accounts for 45% of the country’s electricity generation mix – to close its cumulative emissions gap by 2025. To replace coal and concurrently deliver on the commitment to phase out nuclear, Germany will need to add an average 8.31 GW of solar capacity every year – ramping up solar by 4.6 times the current forecast.

Coal is an issue in all of the countries that REC investigated. The Netherlands, for instance, whose share in total global CO2 emissions is just 0.4%, is the fifth-worst environmental performer in Europe on the 2015 Environmental Performance Index, with increased use of coal the reason for the poor ranking. A sharp ramp-up of solar and wind energy (with cumulative additional solar capacity of 14 GW, less than double the current forecast) would make coal fully dispensable as of 2023, according to REC.

In the U.S., cumulative PV installations of approximately 790 GW are necessary to ensure the country meets its share in closing the emissions gap by 2025 – that’s four times the current forecast installations through 2025, REC argues.

Likewise, the company says Japan would need cumulative additional solar capacity of 250 GW by 2025, more than three times the current forecast. The company notes that Japan, the world’s fifth largest emissions emitter, accounts for 3% of global emissions and therefore its COP21 pledge to reduce emissions by 26% by 2030 compared to 2013 levels falls short.

“The results of our calculations are eye-opening,” said REC CEO Steve O’Neil. “Comparing emissions forecasts under current policies and to limit temperature increase to 1.5ºC, the world needs to reduce a significant cumulative amount of 144 Gt of CO2 emissions by 2025.”

Since a third of global energy-related CO2 emissions stem from the power sector, solar can make a significant contribution, specifically 25%, to reducing emissions, O’Neil added. This in turn would contribute to limiting the temperature increase. “And the earlier the world begins to accelerate the pace of installations, the less capacity will be required at the end.”

According to REC’s calculations, this would require a sharp ramp-up of solar capacity to 1.7 TW in 2025 alone — nine times the forecast based on the current trend.

Governments are meeting this week for the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, to move ahead with the landmark Paris Climate Change Agreement and prepare for COP22, to be held later this year.