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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Jun 25, 2021

UK must stop blundering into high carbon choices warns CCC

Dominic Ellis
5 min
The UK must put an end to a year of climate contradictions and stop blundering on high carbon choices warns the Climate Change Committee

The UK Government must end a year of climate contradictions and stop blundering on high carbon choices, according to the Climate Change Committee as it released 200 policy recommendations in a progress to Parliament update.

While the rigour of the Climate Change Act helped bring COP26 to the UK, it is not enough for Ministers to point to the Glasgow summit and hope that this will carry the day with the public, the Committee warns. Leadership is required, detail on the steps the UK will take in the coming years, clarity on tax changes and public spending commitments, as well as active engagement with people and businesses across the country.

"It it is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen in the last 12 months. There are gaps and ambiguities. Climate resilience remains a second-order issue, if it is considered at all. We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices. Our Planning system and other fundamental structures have not been recast to meet our legal and international climate commitments," the update states. "Our message to Government is simple: act quickly – be bold and decisive."

The UK’s record to date is strong in parts, but it has fallen behind on adapting to the changing climate and not yet provided a coherent plan to reduce emissions in the critical decade ahead, according to the Committee.

  • Statutory framework for climate The UK has a strong climate framework under the Climate Change Act (2008), with legally-binding emissions targets, a process to integrate climate risks into policy, and a central role for independent evidence-based advice and monitoring. This model has inspired similarclimate legislation across the world.
  • Emissions targets The UK has adopted ambitious territorial emissions targets aligned to the Paris Agreement: the Sixth Carbon Budget requires an emissions reduction of 63% from 2019 to 2035, on the way to Net Zero by 2050. These are comprehensive targets covering all greenhouse gases and all sectors, including international aviation and shipping.
  • Emissions reduction The UK has a leading record in reducing its own emissions: down by 40% from 1990 to 2019, the largest reduction in the G20, while growing the economy (GDP increased by 78% from 1990 to 2019). The rate of reductions since 2012 (of around 20 MtCO2e annually) is comparable to that needed in the future.
  • Climate Risk and Adaptation The UK has undertaken three comprehensive assessments of the climate risks it faces, and the Government has published plans for adapting to those risks. There have been some actions in response, notably in tackling flooding and water scarcity, but overall progress in planning and delivering adaptation is not keeping up with increasing risk. The UK is less prepared for the changing climate now than it was when the previous risk assessment was published five years ago.
  • Climate finance The UK has been a strong contributor to international climate finance, having recently doubled its commitment to £11.6 billion in aggregate over 2021/22 to 2025/26. This spend is split between support for cutting emissions and support for adaptation, which is important given significant underfunding of adaptation globally. However, recent cuts to the UK’s overseas aid are undermining these commitments.

In a separate comment, it said the Prime Minister’s Ten-Point Plan was an important statement of ambition, but it has yet to be backed with firm policies. 

Baroness Brown, Chair of the Adaptation Committee said: “The UK is leading in diagnosis but lagging in policy and action. This cannot be put off further. We cannot deliver Net Zero without serious action on adaptation. We need action now, followed by a National Adaptation Programme that must be more ambitious; more comprehensive; and better focussed on implementation than its predecessors, to improve national resilience to climate change.”

Priority recommendations for 2021 include setting out capacity and usage requirements for Energy from Waste consistent with plans to improve recycling and waste prevention, and issue guidance to align local authority waste contracts and planning policy to these targets; develop (with DIT) the option of applying either border carbon tariffs or minimum standards to imports of selected embedded-emission-intense industrial and agricultural products and fuels; and implement a public engagement programme about national adaptation objectives, acceptable levels of risk, desired resilience standards, how to address inequalities, and responsibilities across society. 

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner said the report is another reminder that if the UK is to meet its ambitious climate targets there is an urgent need to scale up bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

"As the world’s leading generator and supplier of sustainable bioenergy there is no better place to deliver BECCS at scale than at Drax in the UK. We are ready to invest in and deliver this world-leading green technology, which would support clean growth in the north of England, create tens of thousands of jobs and put the UK at the forefront of combatting climate change."

Drax Group is kickstarting the planning process to build a new underground pumped hydro storage power station – more than doubling the electricity generating capacity at its iconic Cruachan facility in Scotland. The 600MW power station will be located inside Ben Cruachan – Argyll’s highest mountain – and increase the site’s total capacity to 1.04GW (click here).

Lockdown measures led to a record decrease in UK emissions in 2020 of 13% from the previous year. The largest falls were in aviation (-60%), shipping (-24%) and surface transport (-18%). While some of this change could persist (e.g. business travellers accounted for 15-25% of UK air passengers before the pandemic), much is already rebounding with HGV and van travel back to pre-pandemic levels, while car use, which at one point was down by two-thirds, only 20% below pre-pandemic levels.

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