A report released by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) predicts that the total solar energy installations would reach 980 GW by 2020.
The report released during the Cancun climate change summit states that the rapid development of solar thermal and solar photovoltaic technologies would cut about 570 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next decade.
The SEIA is lobbying the world leaders and climate negotiators attending the Cancun climate summit to include solar energy incentives in the perspective climate change agreement as specific measures to reduce carbon emissions.
Too Good to be True?
While the projections of this report seem extremely promising but we must also evaluate these projections in realistic terms.
New PV additions in 2010 are estimated to reach 16 GW, the highest ever. While Germany continues to be the leader in solar PV generation, the centre of growth is likely to shift to Asia. China has now become the most attractive renewable energy market and has invested more dollars in clean energy technologies than any other country. India's National Solar Mission is also likely to result to result in massive capacity addition in solar PV as well as solar thermal.
The demand for solar PV is likely to decline in the European Union due to scaling back of subsidies in many countries including Italy, Spain and Germany.
The solar thermal industry is slightly more mature than the solar PV industry but its practical footprint is far less. The solar thermal technology for producing power and heat energy is quite well-established, however, there are only handful of large-scale solar thermal power plants. The growth of solar thermal has traditionally been slower than solar PV. It was only after 2004 that large-scale solar thermal power plants started attracting investments, mostly in Spain, California and Arizona.
According to the Renewables Global Status Report 2010, the global solar PV installed capacity had reached 21 GW by 2009-end while the solar thermal capacity reached 662 MW by March 2010. The solar hot water capacity installation by 2009 were 180 GWth.
The solar PV production has been increasing steadily, reaching 10.7 GW by 2009 and about 18 GW by end of 2010 (projection). But in the absence of significant demand this capacity addition could go waste. The United States has no comprehensive or central solar energy policy. And while India does have dedicated solar energy policies, their targets are based on several assumptions about technology advancements and financial parity. These goals may not be achieved if these assumptions fail to transform into realities.
That leaves only China as the major growth center. Its seems that the Chinese have recognized the strategic and economic importance 0f investing in clean energy technologies. The Communist leadership in China can easily impose its policies on the industrial and commercial sectors. China is also rapidly adding infrastructure to suppor the expansion of these new energy technologies, something no other country is doing at a comparable scale.
So, in conclusion, firstly, it seems highly unlikely that an international agreement on climate change mitigation would be reached in the near future. Secondly, addition of a specific technology in the climate deal is even more unrealistic prospect as it would be seen as favoritism for a particular industry. And lastly, with the lack of comprehensive policies to push capacity addition across the globe the spectacular rise of solar energy in the next decade, as projected in this report, is highly unlikely.
Hat tip: Businessweek
Image: Nadine Y. Barclay (USAF)/Wikimedia Commons