Feature Report: Solar, an Energy of the Future

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Solar in the Global Energy Mix

Solar energy, in all its forms, accounts for less than 1% of the global energy mix. However, its rapid development should ensure it plays a vital role in the future energy landscape.

The rooftop solar array on the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, in the United States. © SUNPOWER CORP

15%: The increase in renewable energy capacity from 2014 to 2015.

The status of solar energy can be assessed using various indicators:

30,000 solar panels will be installed every hour around the world between now and 2021, according to the IEA.

Strong Growth Prospects

Renewable energies added a record 153 GW of new capacity in 2015, an increase of 15% from 2014 that the IEA has described as a “turning point” for renewables3. Solar accounted for 49 GW of the total and wind 66 GW.

The IEA predicts that growth will continue to 2021 as long as governments maintain their support for renewable energyEnergy sources that are naturally replenished so quickly that they can be considered inexhaustible on a human time scale... development. Over the next five years, renewables are expected to account for 60% of the increase in world electricity generation. Wind and solar will drive 75% of the gain, mainly thanks to a decline in production costs of 25% for solar and 15% for wind (see Close-Up: “Photovoltaic Solar Is Increasingly Competitive”).

Using an image that captures the imagination, the IEA estimates that 2.5 wind turbines and 30,000 solar panels will be installed every hour between now and 2021.