In April 2015, scientists at MIT’s Energy Initiative Laboratory in Cambridge Massachusetts issued a report that strongly encouraged a “global expansion” of solar power by 2050. The increase in power should be in sufficient quantity to provide electric power for 1/3 to ½ of the global population. The report called such an expansion “critical” to reducing the impacts of fossil fuels on the climate.
The report supports the efforts of renewable energy industries around the world, which added nearly half of the net power capacity worldwide in 2014. According to Achim Steiner, director of the United Nations Environment Programme, 2014 was a “record” year for the growth of renewable energy sources. He cited the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) which hailed the fact that renewable resources for electricity are uncoupling the global economy from CO² emissions. People will no longer have to choose between the power they need for industry and the air they need for life.
In June 2015, REN21 reported that in 2014:
- 164 countries had renewable energy and associated policy supports in place;
- the total output of energy created with renewable power sources increased 8.5% (to 1,712 GW) over production in 2013, and
- for the first time in forty years, the level of CO² did not rise over the level in 2013, despite continued growth in world economies.
REN21 Chair Arthouros Zervos declared at the Vienna Energy Forum that
“renewable energy and energy efficiency are key to limiting global warming to 2.C and avoiding dangerous climate change.”
Solar power showed the fastest growth rate internationally, going from 3.7 GW of global production in 2004 to 177 GW global production in 2014.
Efforts in a number of countries have contributed to the good news. Every country that is achieving higher capacity in solar and other renewable energy industries is doing so by encouraging industrial investment at the private level, offering incentives and rewards for improving and engaging renewable technologies, and revising existing policies and procedures to open access to the power source to a greater number of citizens. Those that are doing it well are seeing growth in their economies, adding jobs, evolving manufacturing industries and establishing greater energy security.
Some 2014 international PV industry highlights:
- Italy had the third highest capacity from solar panels and generated the highest share of its electricity from the sun. Its new building codes require installation of solar panels, making it a likely contender to be the first country to obtain grid parity for solar power.
- Japan is moving away from nuclear power and has focused on solar cell efficiency in terms of technology. It intends to increase overall national use of PV power from its current 10-15% to as much as 40% by 2030. In 2014, it added the second largest amount of solar capacity to its grid, behind China. The country has numerous tax and subsidy programs in place to create new solar industries.
- Spain has seen huge developments in its concentrating solar power facilities, which use mirrors to focus large amounts of solar heat onto small areas. In 2014, it introduced the world to its 7 8 Gemasolar plant of Seville, which can store heat for energy use for 18 hours at full capacity, without any additional power from the sun. Retaining solar power for use after dark is the biggest goal for the solar energy industry today. Spain generates large amounts of solar power from concentrating solar plants and large solar farms.
- China added more solar capacity to its grid in 2014 than any other country, and 9 installed solar arrays that equaled the amount of almost all of France’s solar capacity in the first quarter of 2015. The country connected 5.04 GW, for a total of 33 GW of solar power supply.
MIT’s researchers are providing the evidence that supports increased global investment in solar power as a replacement for fossil fuels. International attention to climate concerns, industrial innovations and revised governmental regulations are combining to drive the world’s economies towards safer, cleaner and healthier futures.