Global solar potential is highly underestimated, study shows

The growth of the global photovoltaic market is progressing rapidly, often exceeding the expectations of the boldest optimists. Declining costs are the decisive factor which is leading to broader adoption of PV on a global scale, according to a study published by the Mercator Research Institute on Global Community and Climate Change (MCC).

The authors of the report claim that the share of PV by 2050 could be three times as large as previously assumed. According to the article published in the magazine “Nature Energy”, the share of solar energy could be between 30% and 50% worldwide, and not as current estimate of between 5% and 17%.

This result is important for the next IPCC Assessment Report, as well as for political decision-makers. The potential and growth of PV, in fact, has been considerably underestimated in the IPCC model, which also includes recommendations for investments in less efficient plants or technologies.

The new assumptions of the MCC study also present challenges and opportunities. For example, larger storage capacities and stable networks would have to be created. “In order to tap the full potential of solar energy, industrial countries – especially the G20 – need to modernize their regulations for the electricity market and promote technologies for new storage methods right now,” says Felix Creutzig, chief author of the study and head of the MCC working group Land Use, Infrastructure and Transport.

A cost analysis was carried out with a computer model at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Costs for grid expansion, storage and other integration options for solar power have been taken into account. Furthermore, the model has considered new data on the PV expansion and its learning curve. Currently, the price of solar modules drops by more than 20% when the produced quantity has doubled, according to the scientists.

But there is still plenty of potential and promising ideas in other areas to further reduce the costs of Solar. “Our study indicates that, under realistic assumptions, photovoltaics will become the most important power source in the world – at least if we take climate protection seriously and focus on the most affordable kind of technology,” says Jan Christoph Goldschmidt, Head of the Team “Novel Solarzellenkonzepte” at Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE), which was also part of the study together with the University of Wisconsin.