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IEA sees great potential for solar, providing up to a quarter of world electricity by 2050

11 May 2010   Valencia

Solar electricity could represent up to 20% to 25% of global electricity production by 2050. This important finding emerges from two new analyses by the International Energy Agency (IEA): the solar Photovoltaic (PV) and Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) roadmaps, launched today in Valencia/Spain, during the Mediterranean Solar Plan Conference hosted by the Spanish presidency of the EU. "It is particularly appropriate to present the two solar roadmaps in Valencia today, given that Spain has taken a leading role globally in promoting solar power and other forms of renewable energy," said Mr. Tanaka. "The combination of solar photovoltaics and concentrating solar power offers considerable prospects for enhancing energy security while reducing energy-related CO2 emissions by almost six billion tonnes per year by 2050." The roadmaps detail the technology milestones that would make this possible, highlighting that the two technologies will deploy in different yet complementary ways: PV mostly for on-grid distributed generation in many regions and CSP largely providing dispatchable electricity at utility scale from regions with brightest sun and clearest skies. PV also helps provide energy access off grid in rural areas. Together, PV and CSP could generate 9 000 Terawatt hours of power in 2050.

"This decade is crucial for effective policies to enable the development of solar electricity," Mr. Tanaka said. "Long-term oriented, predictable solar-specific incentives are needed to sustain early deployment and bring both technologies to competitiveness in the most suitable locations and times." These incentives will need to evolve over time to foster innovation and technology improvements. To support cost reductions and longer-term breakthroughs, governments also need to ensure long-term funding for additional research, development and demonstration efforts.

With effective policies in place, PV on residential and commercial buildings will achieve grid parity – i.e. with electricity grid retail prices – by 2020 in many regions. PV will become competitive at utility-scale in the sunniest regions by 2030 and provide 5% of global electricity. As PV matures into a mainstream technology, grid integration and management and energy storage become key issues. The PV industry, grid operators and utilities will need to develop new technologies and strategies to integrate large amounts of PV into flexible, efficient and smart grids. By 2050, PV could provide more than 11% of global electricity.

The IEA expects CSP to become competitive for peak and mid-peak loads by 2020 in the sunniest places if appropriate policies are adopted. Its further expansion will depend on the development of dedicated transport lines that will bring CSP electricity to a greater number of large consumption centres. Some of them will have to be developed within large countries such as China, India and the USA. Others will cross border, and many will be needed to link the southern and northern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Thanks to thermal storage, CSP can produce electricity around the clock and will become competitive with base load power by 2025 to 2030. North America will be the largest producer of CSP electricity, followed by North Africa and India. North Africa would most likely export about half its production to Europe, the second largest consumer. The overall contribution of CSP could – like that of PV - represent 11% or more of the global electricity demand by 2050.

Mr. Tanaka concluded in noting that "solar PV and CSP appear to be complementary more than competing. The firm capacity and flexibility of CSP plants will help grid operators integrate larger amounts of variable renewable electricity such as solar PV and wind power. PV will expand under a broader range of climate conditions and bring clean renewable electricity directly to end-users."

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