Solar On-Track to Become #1 Energy Resource by 2035, IEA Finds

PV MagazineNovember 13, 2019642


Solar energy is on track to become the biggest source of renewable energy in the next decade.

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Solar On-Track to Become #1 Energy Resource by 2035, IEA Finds

Solar energy will become the world’s biggest energy resource in the next decade according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook report.

Despite the optimistic-sounding headline finding of today’s study, however, the IEA says the volume of anticipated sources of renewable energy generation capacity, rather than displacing fossil fuel power, will do little more than keep up with rising demand for solar electricity.

The volume of electricity generation rose 7% – 450 TWh last year, compared to 2017. That explains why global coal capacity will likely remain flat at around 2.2 TW from next year to 2040. Gas generation capacity is expected to increase from nearly 1.9 TW to 2.65 TW during that time and 3,142 GW of solar will overtake the capacity of wind next year (715 GW), hydro in 2027 (1,522 GW), coal in 2032 (2,120 GW) and gas in 2035 (2,476 GW) to become the world’s biggest energy supplier.

The IEA says the world will see power generation capacity additions of around 8.5 TW up to 2040, of which around two-thirds will be sources of renewable energy. In China and the EU, renewables will account for 80% of new capacity but clean energy will add up to less than half of new solar panel installations worldwide.

Solar power is the most popular source of new sources of renewable energy capacity in most parts of the world, says the IEA. In China, for example, PV will comprise 44% of all sources of renewable energy capacity additions until 2040. In Japan, that figure will be 53%, in India 46%. In the EU, solar panels will supply 29% of new sources of renewable energy capacity up to 2040, to trail wind’s 39%. In central and South America, solar energy is on par with wind at 18%, and behind hydro, which will supply 26%.

The IEA said $390 billion was invested in sources of renewable energy last year, a slight fall from 2017. Under the agency’s “stated policies scenario”, the figure is expected to rise to an average $440 billion per year through 2030. The agency says $650 billion per year will be required to meet energy-related sustainable development goals.

Solar energy investment from 2017 to 2018 fell 4% to $135 billion largely as a result of China’s decision to rein in solar panel installation subsidies. Looking further out, the IEA claims that investments in solar panels will fall to $116 billion annually in the SPS. Should the world follow what would be needed for an SDS that figure would rise to $169 to $189 billion in 2030 to 2040, respectively. This presumed decrease in investments makes solar power the only of the sources of renewable energy which has market volume in terms of investment could decrease in an SPS. The drop would be -7%, while wind would increase by 37% for comparison. In an SDS, solar power investments would grow by 41% while wind investments would be up 151%.

Yet still, solar panels are poised for robust growth. Sitting at 592 TWh in 2018, the agency believes that with the SPS, that number will hit 2562 TWh in 2030, and 4705 in 2040, or fivefold and eightfold, respectively. In the SDS solar panels with grow to 3513 TWh by 2030, and 7208 by 2040.

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