Decarbonizing the World’s Energy System: Energy Efficiency and Solar Power
Combining efforts in solar power and energy efficiency are on top of the list
According to a couple of reports of the International Energy Agency (IEA), solar energy could be the largest source of electricity by 2050. The report suggests that solar PV could eventually be able to generate 16 percent of the global electricity needs. On top of that, electricity produced by solar concentrated plants could provide an additional 11 percent. If these two technologies are combined they can account for 27 percent of the generated electricity and will also help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an estimate of 6 billion tons per year, which almost equals the current global emissions caused by transportation.
At the beginning of 2014, the global PV capacity has already topped 150GW. More PV capacity was installed in the last 4 years than in the previous 40 years, mainly due to cost reductions. IEA predicts that prices will continue to fall and by 2050 it expects the costs to decrease by as much as 65 percent.
Another report about solar thermal electricity, provided by concentrating solar plants (CSP), points out the importance of the technology for reducing carbon emissions. Nowadays, the global solar thermal capacity is only 4GW but the report expects it to reach 1000GW capacity by 2050, which would eliminate 2.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year.
Typically, solar PV and solar thermal are seen as competing technologies, but IEA sees them as complementary. The shortcomings of solar PV could be overcome by the ability of CSP to store thermal energy and provide back up power if needed during peak hours, or on cloudy days and during the night, when solar PV can not generate electricity.
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The agency also reported that the global investments in improving energy efficiency have exceeded $3.2 billion a year and it expects further growth. This is substantial since the agency sees improving energy efficiency as the number one goal in battling global warming.
IEA has investigated 18 countries during the period 2001 and 2011, and has recorded a five percent decrease in the total energy consumption, which is the result of increased investments in energy efficiency. This 5 percent decrease has resulted in avoiding the consumption of 1700 tons of oil which is more than the demand of Germany and USA in 2012 combined. The report has also determined that the investments in energy efficiency in the past 40 years, have resulted in avoiding energy consumption equal to the amount consumed by the EU countries in 2011.
It is pretty obvious that IEA sees solar energy and energy efficiency as the drivers of meeting our climate goals. This is why they call for more investment in both sectors, so that we get closer to a carbon-free global energy system.