13% of the world’s energy, in 2030, will be generated by solar photovoltaics. This is the forecast announced by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in its new report ''Letting in the light: How solar photovoltaics will revolutionize the electricity system''. An astonishing prediction, considering that less than 2% of global electricity is currently generated by photovoltaics. According to the report, it is estimated that solar power, mainly driven by reduced costs, may reach between 1,760 and 2,500 GW by 2030, compared with 227 GW to date. ''Recent analysts believe that the reduction in costs for solar and wind power shall continue in the future, with further reductions of up to 59 percent in the next ten years'', said Adnan Z. Amin, Director General of IRENA. ''This report shows that these reductions, in combination with other enabling factors, may create an incredible expansion in solar energy on a global scale. The transition to renewable energies is well underway, and solar power may play a central role''.
Numbers and scenarios of the photovoltaics industry
The reports, by focusing on technology, economics, applications, infrastructure, politics and impacts, provides an overview of the global solar photovoltaics sector and of its prospects for the future. As regards costs, solar photovoltaics regularly costs only 5 to 10 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in Europe, China, India, South Africa and the United States. In 2015, record low prices were fixed 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 photovoltaics auction in Dubai attracted an offer of 3 cents / kWh. These record lows indicate a continuing trend towards a further reduction in costs. As regards investments, solar photovoltaics currently account for over half of all investments in the renewable energy industry: in 2015, global investments reached $67 billion for solar photovoltaic roofs, $92 billion for utility-scale systems and $267 million for off-grid applications. Solar photovoltaics is also the sector that offers the most work out of all of the various renewable sources, currently employing 2.8 million people in production, installation and maintenance. Last but not least, the figures linked to environmental sustainability: to date, photovoltaics have prevented the emission into the atmosphere of 300 million tons of CO2 per year and, in 2030, it could save the planet 3 billion tons of carbon.
Good prospects for the future
Solar power may strongly contribute to the world’s future challenge to meet a pressing energy demand without breaking its commitments in the fight against climate change, but a strong political will is needed. ''The world’s electricity demand will grow by over 50% by 2030, mostly in emerging and developing countries'', explained the Director General of IRENA. ''To meet this demand and, at the same time, to achieve development and sustainability goals, governments need to implement policies that allow solar power to reach its full potential''. Achieving 13 percent of electricity produced from solar power by 2030 will require, on average, annual increases in capacity of more than double for the next 14 years. A goal that, as highlighted by the report, can be reached by implementing these five recommendations: policies updated on the basis of the most recent innovations; government support of research and development activities; creation of a framework of global standards; changes in the market structure; adoption of enabling technologies, such as smart networks and storage systems.