Nov 24, 2014

2020 Vision: The Near Future of Solar Power

6 min

Read this in the November issue of Energy Digital!

It’s no secret the energy landscape is changing. More countries are relying on renewable energy sources and are attempting to phase out fossil fuels. When one examines the speed with which the transition is occurring, however, the findings are somewhat staggering.

In August, consulting firm Frost & Sullivan reported that revenues in global solar power market are expected to more than double by 2020, from $60 billion in 2013 to $137 billion.

2020 is an important year for the industry, as there has been quite a bit of research conducted and outlooks provided that set this near-future date as an important milestone or target.

While there multiple figures contributing to this boom, it’s still quite the thing to realize that the market will be twice its current size in only 6 years.
So, what does this vision of the near future look like for the solar industry?

No Surprise

As renewable energy website CleanTechnica notes, Frost & Sullivan’s report isn’t telling people anything they don’t already know.

“According to the report, ‘Frost & Sullivan estimates that global solar market revenues will grow between 2014 and 2020 despite the economic uncertainty in the global markets,’” writes Joshua S. Hill, “—a statement that needs to be awarded a big ol’ ‘No kidding!’ for its absolute lack of insight.”

So, what’s the main takeaway if the industry is expected to explode anyways?

The report does note that Asia will see the most development, accounting for 46% of annual installed solar capacity. The top four countries expected to take the greatest leaps toward are China, Japan, India, and Australia.

The biggest question mark in that group is most certainly Australia. With its potential scaling back of the country’s Renewable Energy Target, it’s difficult to say what its solar future looks like.

That’s not to say there aren’t optimists, though. Citigroup recently forecast that by 2020, the capacity of the Australian solar market would reach 14 GW—a huge amount of growth from its current 2.2 GW.

Essentially, the most important takeaway from the Frost & Sullivan report is that while growth may not be surprising, some of the areas in which it will occur might be. 

An Economic Growth Driver

Often times when discussing renewable energy growth, the discussion of jobs and the economy are at the forefront of conversation. So, having established the industry will most certainly grow, what will that growth look like?

A report out from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) in the U.K. gives a potential snapshot of what the industry could look like come 2020 in terms of its economic growth. 

The report, which focuses solely on the U.K., predicts an employment figure of 50,000 workers and an additional £25.5 billion added to the economy. These are impressive numbers, and even more so if the funds and jobs are able to remain in the U.K. There is a common criticism leveled against the industry that this does not happen as often as it should.

Ben Cosh, managing director of TGC Renewables aimed to quell these fears. The report finds that 63% of the materials and services from the solar supply chain would come from within the U.K., and the percentage is expected to rise to 71% by 2030.

“We’re trying to bust a myth here,” Cosh said. “Solar contributes to the British economy because British supply chains do most of the balance of plant.”

Also noteworthy in terms of the near future outlook, is the industry is actually looking to scale-back governmental assistance for renewable energy. Solar farms are projected to be less expensive than new gas plants by 2018 and even fall below wholesale electricity by 2024. With the costs decreasing, it would seem the industry could stand on its own.

“We believe that government support for solar energy should come down gradually, in line with falling costs, until solar electricity is consistently the same price as the market price for electricity,” Paul Barwell, chief executive of the Solar Trade Alliance, said. “Once we have reached that point—what we call solar independence— solar no longer needs any support and will, with time, bring down energy bills. But it will need stable, gradually declining, support to get there.”

While the main focus of the report is 2020, it also provides an outlook until 2030, which could see the industry double once more.

Strong Support

As solar growth is good for economic growth, there is strong policy support behind its development.

One such case of this can be found in Austin, Texas. Texas, a state known for its big oil production, might seem an unlikely place to heartily support solar, but Austin is certainly jumping on board. The city has set aggressive goals to have 600 MW of utility scale solar by 2017 and 200 MW of rooftop solar by 2020.

Citing falling costs for solar and the potential to save ratepayers money, the city decided going solar was very much in its best interests.

“The resolution would save Austin ratepayers money and keep electricity prices in the lowest 50 percent range among Texas utilities. With numbers like that it’s no mystery why utilities and power producers are starting to see the light on solar,” The Energy Collective’s Marita Mirzatuny writes. “Recently, the City of Georgetown, with about 1/20th the number of customers of a utility like Austin Energy, issued its own proposal for 150 MW of solar. Since the Austin Energy announcement, several utilities in Texas have been looking at investments in new solar power plants.”

Austin is just one out of a number of American cities looking to achieve some level of aggressive solar goals by 2020.

The U.S. federal government is also throwing its support behind solar, aiming to add at least 50,000 new solar employees by 2020. In order to make this happen, the U.S. Department of Energy is partnering with community colleges to provide opportunities for military veterans to get training in order to enter into the solar field.

To the Stars

Perhaps the most exciting, yet most uncertain part, of solar’s future involves its role in our foray into outer space.

The International Space Station (ISS) relies on solar arrays for power and their further innovation could help leader to more efficient space flight. Currently, the ISS is set to remain space-bound until 2020, though the U.S. government hopes to keep it airborne through 2024.

For this to happen, there needs to be a solution for keeping the solar arrays safe so they can get enough power to the station to keep it flying. A proposed solution has been recently seen in the form of folding panels that curl up like a flower and unfurl when needed.

As the industry continues to grow, by 2020, we could see a more efficient and better-equipped ISS that could take us to the planets and beyond.

Still, what’s happening on the terrestrial side of the solar industry is equally exciting. With the industry set to double its size in just 6 years, now’s a wonderful time to be standing in the sun. 

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May 13, 2021

All but two UK regions failing on school energy efficiency

Dominic Ellis
2 min
Yorkshire & the Humber and the North East are the only UK regions where schools have collectively reduced how much they spend on energy per pupil

Most schools are still "treading water" on implementing energy efficient technology, according to new analysis of Government data from eLight.

Yorkshire & the Humber and the North East are the only regions where schools have collectively reduced how much they spend on energy per pupil, cutting expenditure by 4.4% and 0.9% respectively. Every other region of England increased its average energy expenditure per pupil, with schools in Inner London doing so by as much as 23.5%.

According to The Carbon Trust, energy bills in UK schools amount to £543 million per year, with 50% of a school’s total electricity cost being lighting. If every school in the UK implemented any type of energy efficient technology, over £100 million could be saved each year.

Harvey Sinclair, CEO of eEnergy, eLight’s parent company, said the figures demonstrate an uncomfortable truth for the education sector – namely that most schools are still treading water on the implementation of energy efficient technology. Energy efficiency could make a huge difference to meeting net zero ambitions, but most schools are still lagging behind.

“The solutions exist, but they are not being deployed fast enough," he said. "For example, we’ve made great progress in upgrading schools to energy-efficient LED lighting, but with 80% of schools yet to make the switch, there’s an enormous opportunity to make a collective reduction in carbon footprint and save a lot of money on energy bills. Our model means the entire project is financed, doesn’t require any upfront expenditure, and repayments are more than covered by the energy savings made."

He said while it has worked with over 300 schools, most are still far too slow to commit. "We are urging them to act with greater urgency because climate change won’t wait, and the need for action gets more pressing every year. The education sector has an important part to play in that and pupils around the country expect their schools to do so – there is still a huge job to be done."

North Yorkshire County Council is benefiting from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, which has so far awarded nearly £1bn for energy efficiency and heat decarbonisation projects around the country, and Craven schools has reportedly made a successful £2m bid (click here).

The Department for Education has issued 13 tips for reducing energy and water use in schools.

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