The share of global electricity generated by solar photovoltaics (PV) could increase from 2% today to as much as 13% by 2030, according to a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
The report finds the solar industry is poised for massive expansion, driven primarily by cost reductions. It estimates that solar PV capacity could reach between 1,760 and 2,500 GW by 2030, up from 227 GW today.
“Recent analysis from IRENA finds that cost reductions for solar and wind will continue into the future, with further declines of up to 59 percent possible for solar PV in the next 10 years,” says IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin. “This comprehensive overview of the solar industry finds that these cost reductions, in combination with other enabling factors, can create a dramatic expansion of solar power globally. The renewable energy transition is well under way, with solar playing a central role.”
Focusing on technology, economics, applications, infrastructure, policy and impacts, the report gives an overview of the global solar PV industry and its prospects for the future. It includes data and statistics on the following:
Capacity: The report says solar PV is the most widely owned electricity source in the world in terms of number of installations, and its uptake is accelerating. It accounted for 20% of all new power generation capacity in 2015. In the last five years, global installed capacity has grown from 40 GW to 227 GW. By comparison, the entire generation capacity of Africa is 175 GW.
Costs: Solar PV regularly costs just 5 to 10 US cents per kilowatt-hour in Europe, China, India, South Africa and the U.S. In 2015, record-low prices were set in the United Arab Emirates (5.84 cents/kWh), Peru (4.8 cents/kWh) and Mexico (4.8 cents/kWh). In May 2016, a solar PV auction in Dubai attracted a bid of 3 cents/kWh. The report says these record lows indicate a continued trend and potential for further cost reduction.
Investment: Solar PV now represents more than half of all investment in the renewable energy sector. In 2015, global investment reached $67 billion for rooftop solar PV, $92 billion for utility-scale systems, and $267 million for off-grid applications.
Jobs: As revealed in a previous IRENA report, the solar PV value chain today employs 2.8 million people in manufacturing, installation and maintenance, the largest number of any renewable energy.
Environment: Solar PV generation has already reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by up to 300 million tonnes per year. The report says this can increase to up to three gigatonnes of CO2 per year in 2030.
“World electricity demand is expected to grow by more than 50 percent by 2030, mostly in developing and emerging economies,” explains Amin. “To meet this demand while also realizing global development and sustainability goals, governments must implement policies that enable solar to achieve its full potential.”
The report says that reaching a 13% share of global electricity by 2030 will require average annual capacity additions to more than double for the next 14 years. The report highlights five recommendations that can help achieve this increase, including updated policies based on the latest innovations; government support of continued research and development activities; creation of a global standards framework; market structure changes; and the adoption of enabling technologies like smart grids and storage.
The full report, titled “Letting in the Light: How Solar Photovoltaics Will Revolutionize the Electricity System,” is available here.