(3Bl Media/Justmeans) - A multi-disciplinary team from the MIT Energy Initiative project produced the âFuture of Solar Energyâ report as part of a series of studies. The report found that while solar accounts for less than 1% of the American electricity supply today, its contribution in the future is capable of growing to what they call âmulti-terawatt scale.â Considering that the global generation capacity today is a little over five terawattsâthat is significant. Considering the inherently clean, low-carbon nature of solar power, it clearly is potentially âan essential component of a workable strategy to mitigate climate change risk.â The study addresses a wide array of solar options including solar thermal concentratingÂ (CSP) plants, which, given their cost and complexity are best suited to utility-scale multi-MW installations, to photovoltaic (PV) systems, which can range from a 10kW residential rooftop system, to a utility scale installation covering many acres. While CSP has thermal storage inherently built in, PV systems have none, requiring batteries, or grid-backup or some other storage means to sustain power in the absence of sunshine.
After a detailed assessment, the 356-page study concludes that there are few obstacles standing in the way. The raw materials and commodities, such as copper, aluminum and glass are plentiful enough to meet the projected peak demand in 2050 of 25 TW. Solar power could, says the report, become a major market driver for these commodities.
While this amount of capacity is a substantial stretch from where the industry is today, there are some existing demonstrations of its potential to scale up. First Solarâs 550 MW Topaz Solar project in California came online last October. The array consists of 9 million solar modules covering an area of 9.5 square miles. Two other plants of equal or greater capacity, Desert Sunlight and Solar Star, are in the works in the US, both of which are already producing substantial amounts of power. Globally, China, India, Germany, France, Ukraine, Thailand and Chile also have operational plants in the 100MW+ range.