How Solar Could Generate Up to 10 TW of Electricity by 2030

May 23, 2017

NREL scientists outline a plan for widespread use of solar energy.

The potential of solar energy is far greater than our ability to harness it, but using the sun’s power to generate a substantial percentage of electricity produced worldwide could be accomplished in the coming years, according to a recent paper that appeared in Science, “Terawatt-Scale Photovoltaics: Trajectories and Challenges.”

Scientists from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and similar institutes in Japan and Germany, along with researchers from universities and industry, have studied recent PV trends and outlined the trajectory that would be necessary to produce a significant portion of the world’s electricity through solar power.

In March 2016, experts met at a gathering of the Global Alliance of Solar Energy Research Institutes (GA-SERI) in Germany to discuss policy initiatives and technological advances that would be necessary to support solar expansion.

“When we came together, there was a consensus that the global PV industry is on a clear trajectory to reach the multi-terawatt scale over the next decade,” says lead author Nancy Haegel, Director of NREL’s Materials Science Center. “However, reaching the full potential for PV technology in the global energy economy will require continued advances in science and technology. Bringing the global research community together to solve challenges related to realizing this goal is a key step in that direction.”

PV generated roughly 1% of global electricity produced in 2015 but has represented about 20% of new installation. The International Solar Alliance hopes to reach 3,000 GW (3 TW) of additional solar power capacity by 2030, which would be a significant increase from the current installed capacity of 71 GW. However, the GA-SERI paper outlines a path to install 5-10 TW of PV capacity by 2030 if the following advances are accomplished:

  • Continued reduction in PV costs while improving solar module performance
  • Reduced time and cost required for the expansion of manufacturing and installation capacity
  • More flexible grids to handle high levels of PV through increased load shifting, energy storage or transmission
  • Increased demand for electricity by using more for transportation and heating or cooling
  • Progress in storage capabilities for energy generated by solar power

Read more about the paper at

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