World crosses ‘tipping point’ on solar power

Solar power is set to dominate global electricity markets within the next few decades, and may have already reached an “irreversible tipping point,” according to a study published this week in Nature Communications. The study finds that solar adoption will continue apace barring any major policy shifts geared at disrupting it.

“If you don’t put any additional policy in your system, you still get a switch or a flip,” says Femke Nijsse, a lecturer at the University of Exeter who focuses on energy-systems modelling and was lead author on the study. “We currently have a fossil fuel-dominated system and without additional policies, we arrive at a state that’s dominated mostly by solar.”

Researchers plugged data from 70 global regions into an energy-simulation model to forecast how 22 different technologies, from geothermal energy to coal, are likely to be deployed through 2060. In 72 percent of the simulations, they found that solar made up the majority of global power generation in 2050.

Solar power is playing an important role in countries’ plans to meet emissions-reduction goals set by the Paris Agreement, and as wind-power projects contend with rising costs. Many countries, including the US, UK and Canada, have pledged to reach net zero by 2050, a goal that will require overhauling the energy sources powering their electricity grids.

In addition to being a cleaner choice, solar is getting cheaper. The levelized cost of solar-generated electricity — ie the cost per megawatt that makes it worth installing — ranges from US$42 to US$48, compared with $74 for coal, according to BloombergNEF.

Jenny Chase, a lead solar analyst at BloombergNEF who was not involved in the study, says those costs will keep falling. “Every time you double the cumulative amounts of solar-power modules that the human race has made, we bring the cost down about 29 percent,” she says. — Bloomberg.

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