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Be Prepared - For a LOT More Solar by 2025

solar growth future expectations

What will the world look like in 2025? Expect a lot more solar power. In fact, according to a report by Thomson Reuters, in 2025, solar will be the primary source of energy on our planet.

2025 may sound a ways off, but it’s only 11 years away. Solar power being that prominent that soon may sound overly optimistic, but the Thomson Reuters researchers have a (rational) basis for their conclusion.

To get there, the researchers scoured the available literature on R&D, looking at citation rankings, most-cited papers, hot topics, patents, and research fronts. Analyzing these sources can give a good indication of the potential of a technology or area of research.

Solar, they found, has enormous potential, enough to be identified as one of the major trends for our near future. The researchers attribute the rise of solar to improvements in efficiency and technology — including, of course, storage technology.

Solar Industry Magazine provides a closer look at the methods used for the study and notes that because it takes a while to see the results of research, and so much research has been happening, we are now experiencing a lag in its applications. By 2025, we will see the fruits of much of the R&D that’s been taking place.

Still not convinced? Take a look at this chart on RenewEconomy, showing that green NGOs — “those accused in dealing in ‘fantasy’” — are more realistically estimating solar capacity forecasts than “established” energy experts, in this case the International Energy Agency.

A look at Germany and Australia can also give a glimpse into our future. In Australia, solar has been a big factor in an unprecedented oversupply of energy — one “never before seen in the history of the national electricity market.” That means that in the southeastern part of the country, new energy generation won’t be needed for another 10 years, even in a worst-case scenario. And there’s enough power to ensure energy reliability.

Speaking of reliability, it turns out that Germany has one of the most reliable power grids in the world, despite its major adoption of renewable energy sources. Germany got 31% of its power from solar and other renewables in the first half of 2014 and has a goal of getting 80% of its energy from renewables by 2050.

Back in the U.S., 74% of new electric generating capacity in the first quarter of this year came from solar. That took the U.S. solar PV total to 14.8 GW of installed capacity, enough to power 3 million homes. And that’s only a start. Even Merrill Lynch is expecting demand for solar to “soar” in the next few years.

We know by now that as solar grows, prices come down and jobs are created. That too is being borne out in Australia, where as in the U.S., the solar industry employs more people now than the coal industry.

Some are saying that by 2020 — a mere six years from now — solar power will even be the cheapest energy source in the world.

It takes a lot to convince some people. But the proof is in the pudding. As we’ve already seen in solar, a lot can happen in a few years. We think some people have a big surprise in store. And we can’t wait to see it happen.

Photo Credit: Future Solar Growth/shutterstock

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Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Sep 11, 2014 6:55 pm GMT

in the southeastern part of the country [Austria], new energy generation won’t be needed for another 10 years, even in a worst-case scenario. And there’s enough power to ensure energy reliability.

I’m thrilled that Austria has managed to abolish night and winter, at least in one part of the country.  However did they managed to do that?

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Sep 11, 2014 6:58 pm GMT

 

Here is my list of interesting near-term developments:

1. Elon Musk driving development of “giga-factories” for battery and panel production.

2. 1366 Technologies direct-to-wafer method of reducing waste of silcon in wafer fabrication.

3. Progress in the production of graphene with potential for development of cheap supercapacitors.

Here’s the scenario. Plug-in electric cars become popular, the price of panels drops, but the cost of installation and inverters remains relatively high. So do-it-yourselfers buy inexpensive high-efficiency panels and use the DC output to charge a supercapicitor during the day, then zap the car battery in the evening. When the car battery no longer performs at peak, replace it and use it for longer-term storage or sell it to the utility which uses it for same.

Appliance manufacturers start to offer a DC power option that is more efficient than AC. (My furnace and air conditioner already has an efficient variable-speed  DC motor.)

At this point, anyone with some real estate has an incentive to get creative with installing solar and the market will respond with products that allow harvesting of solar on all manner of surfaces exposed to the sun.

 

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Sep 11, 2014 7:02 pm GMT

 

I would assume peak demand is for air conditioning during the summer days.

Otherwise, if people are switching to LED for lighting, that demand could be dropping. I know my mine has.

 

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Sep 11, 2014 7:10 pm GMT

I was attempting to edit and expand my remarks, and my composition was dumped into the bit-bucket when I tried to submit it just a minute ago.  Also, the edit link is now missing.

This is dirty pool, people.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Sep 12, 2014 7:06 am GMT

Don’t hold your breath for cheap energy storage with supercapacitors.  Capacitors inherently are a couple of orders of magnitude behind batteries in energy density (although capacitors can beat batteries when only a few seconds worth of energy are needed).  

For cost, batteries beat capacitors, and pumped-hydro beats batteries.  For flat-landers with no access to pumped-hydro, thermal energy storage (when coupled to solar thermal or high temperature nuclear) is the cheapest option.

But in a zero-fossil energy system, the dispatchable load presented by syn-fuel production will likely eliminate the need for most energy storage. 

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Sep 12, 2014 10:54 am GMT

 

My understanding is that graphene-based supercapacitors could hold a charge without significant self-discharge for many hours, even days, and the energy density is actually higher than for batteries, as least by weight. And they would last a long time.

The key to this, as with many interesting graphene applications, is the ability to make it in bulk. Given the applications, a lot of work is being done on the subject.

To capture power from solar panels for use at night, you don’t need them to be especially small, and you just need them to hold a charge for hours.

The other option for charging electric cars from solar would be if charging ports become commonplace. I am starting to see charging ports in grocery store parking lots already. Now, put panels on the store roof, and generate DC current to the chargers.

I agree that syn-fuel could be very useful, but what is the energy loss?

 

 

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Sep 12, 2014 5:19 pm GMT

 

How many Kg of gasoline is currently being moved around? 

Maybe we can toss the used batteries in the old gasoline delivery trucks.

 

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Sep 12, 2014 6:22 pm GMT

the dispatchable load presented by syn-fuel production will likely eliminate the need for most energy storage.

Precisely what IS electro-synthetic fuel production, if not a (very costly and inefficient) form of energy storage?

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Sep 13, 2014 4:06 am GMT

By energy storage, I was referring storage system which have dispatchable electricity as the output product.  The goal of electro-synthetic fuel production is to create an energy form that can do things that electricity cannot do well or at all (I don’t believe in power-to-fuel-to-power).

Sure, it is easy to criticize the efficiency penalty that syn-fuel causes, but it is exactly analagous to the inefficiency of using a 3000 lb car with the power of 160 horse just to transport one or two people around town – in an ideal world we would not do it that way, but that’s what customers keep choosing, and it’s a free country.

I remain skeptical that battery-electric vehicles will achieve more than 30% market share, and even at that I am skeptical that the battery industry will be clean and green.  I’m also skeptical that the biofuel industry will be able provide much automobile fuel (after providing fuel for all aircraft), and am skeptical that the environmental impact of such an industry would be desirable.

In summary, I believe that we will continue to power our cars with fossil fuel until we transition to syn-fuel.  I believe the economics of syn-fuel will be acceptable (e.g. 5¢/kWh electricity will be used to make fuel which costs around $4 per gallon of gasoline equivalent to make); if the cost target is met, the efficiency doesn’t matter.

 

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Sep 13, 2014 2:56 pm GMT

One of the elements in the rising utility prices is the requirement that e.g. all the new transmission lines required to get wind power from far-flung farms to markets be paid for by the general consumer, not by the wind farms themselves out of the subsidies they receive.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Sep 13, 2014 7:56 pm GMT

So why would a nation convert to syn ammonia costing in excess of $1.50/litre when they could convert to veg oil…”

Because ammonia (from solar, wind, and nuclear energy) is essentially infinitely scalable, and all biomass combined (including vegetable oil) can not scale large enough to supply even a quarter of our current needs, not to mention the needs of the billions of people living in developing nations (e.g. David Mackay’s excellent book reports that biofuel uses 30x more land for a given amount of energy compared to solar).  Furthermore, solar, wind, and nuclear power have orders of magnitude less water usage than agriculture.  (I do acknowledge that electricity-to-fuel is immature, thus the cost is uncertain).

Bio-energy is a make-believe solution that could not power our society in the pre-automotive industrial revolution, and certainly can’t power society now. 

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Sep 14, 2014 5:55 pm GMT

 

I just cannot imagine that big battery packs will end up in land fills instead of being recycled.

But the big difference between electric versus gas, is that electric vehicles are something like 80% energy efficient, while internal combustion is 20%.

Then there’s the desirability of few emissions, especially in urban areas.

 

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Sep 14, 2014 9:36 pm GMT

Solar growth will reduce according to the inability to afford subsidy at ever increasing use. However, solar growth will increase according to the ability of technology to reduce costs. Historically, solar’s growth rate was about 30% every year, and past 70% in 2012! I will thus assume the historical rate of growth.

Today, there is (probably over) 100 GW of global installed capacity. Assuming that it will increase by a factor of 1.3 every year, the world will have about 1.8 terrawatts ( or 1.8 billion kW) of installed capacity minus whatever breaks down in just 11 years. The world (as of only 2011) has a total of 5.3 billion kW electrical generation.

Somehow, my math (or info sources) is wrong because I do not believe that solar’s installed capacity will already be at a full third of global electrical.

Of course, we would need to multiply by 4 to make up for the 20% capacity factor and build more solar to make up for storage inefficiency.

The awesome thing about solar is that it can continue to grow until sometime in the 2050’s when its installed capacity would be at 340 TW, plenty enough to power 10 billion at high standards. The only problem is, of course, the massive amount of land required and it’s not so great eroei.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Sep 14, 2014 9:52 pm GMT

Normal cars require a vast infrastructure just for replacement parts that would not be needed in electric cars, I’m sure we could deal with the recycling of batteries, no matter the scale. Obviously, electric cars do make sense from an energy efficiency point of view (and ther are already on the road), meaning less nuclear or solar and wind would be needed to be stored because it takes much less energy to build a battery compared to the energy it would take to make clean liquid fuels which is much more wasted from tank to tailpipe.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Sep 14, 2014 10:00 pm GMT

They will be designed with the battery pack as a platform base upon which the rest of the car is above, thus having good handling. Not every car will have to compete with the best (Tesla), therefore will have lighter packs. Eventually, supercaps which have very poor energy density but very good power density may be used for ultimate regen and fast charged at every conceivable place, thus reducing the battery pack even more.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Sep 18, 2014 7:06 am GMT

Looking at it another way, Americans consume about 100MWh each, per year of primary energy (for everything and the wasted heat for that). 10 billion times that divided by the number of hours in a year equals 114 TW capacity, so ya, I over estimated. 114 TW of (just solar) panels alone would require about 2.2 million square miles! Obviously, we might want to start off by continuing with the efficiency path and reduce that to “just” one million. Remember, even though most of what we consume is wasted as heat in the thermal processes, we would have to counter (that unnecessay, and thus saved amount) by the fact that we would have to store about 3/4ths of that for a day or so depending on how global the grid is to become, to make up for it’s 20% capacity factor and to make up for energy costs of the inefficiency of all that storage.

It seems there is no way solar would grow to that extent even if it and the storage became the cheapest option but what we really need is to have MORE than that amount (of whatever combined and dependable capacity). Most of that extra power might be used for “daily spaceflight” by only 1% of the population (in, say 2060), and even 100x that (for everybody) in a further future.

Back to a future much closer to the present, a huge chunk of energy might be needed to chemically fix the excess CO2 (to sequester it as limestone, for example). Machines might self replicate to do that, or all the energy gould go into greening the deserts in the meantime. Obviously, it would be more beneficial to want to plan for huge amounts of power, so as to prevent limitation.

What about diverting an asteroid strike with only days notice. The only option would be to laserblast it and all its resulting pieces using already established massive amounts of stored energy or connected power supplies. Even more energy would be required to deal with corrective optics and the atmosphere to insure the laser focus’ concentration.

More energy = more power lines = more jobs = more opportunity = more energy = planet saved!

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