One of the best options to develop the energy economy involves a 100% shift to renewable energy using solar power and other clean energy sources.
It is widely recognised that using renewable energy sources will help meet the Paris Agreement’s daunting goal of preventing the earth’s average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above its level in preindustrial times.
While no one knows exactly how an increase above 2 degrees Celsius would impact the planet, extraordinary climatic events would likely make many parts of the world uninhabitable. This is likely to take place through significant desertification, ocean acidification, and a rise of seawater levels, as well as floods, wildfires, hurricanes, and tornadoes.
Pierre J. Verlinden, the Founder of the Australian company Amrock Pty Ltd, describes a model that has been developed to predict what is required of the solar industry to meet the Paris Agreement targets. His description has been published in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy.
“Our planet is on the path of an average temperature increase of 4 degrees Celsius before the end of this century, with respect to the average earth temperature before the industrial age, and the result will be catastrophic,” Verlinden said.
Climate experts predict only 800 gigatons of carbon dioxide needs to be emitted before the 2 degrees Celsius line is crossed. This means that at the current annual global emission of 36 gigatons, there is a 35-year window to reduce our emissions to zero. One way to achieve this goal is to change the way energy is produced and consumed.
“Our vision is that solar photovoltaics can play a central role in a transformed sustainable energy economy with 100% decarbonised electricity generation to power directly or indirectly, through the production of green hydrogen or other synthetic fuels, all energy sectors and industrial processes,” Verlinden said.
In addition to other renewable energy sources, such as wind and water, the world will require about 70 to 80 terawatts (TW) of cumulative capacity from solar photovoltaic systems. This represents more than 100 times the world’s current solar photovoltaic installed capacity.
“Within the next 10 years, the industry needs to increase its production rate by a factor of about 30,” Verlinden added.
A model developed by Verlinden and his colleagues to predict the efficiency of solar cells and their cost to manufacture during the next few decades shows there “is no fundamental barrier to achieving this goal”.
The financial requirement to grow the production rate, namely the capital expenditures to build new production lines, is decreasing at a rate of 18% per year. This has been driven by productivity improvements, and a combination of higher-throughput per tool, larger wafers, and improved cell efficiency.
“In terms of material sustainability, the only major issue is the use of silver for metallisation of silicon solar cells,” said Verlinden, “We need to reduce the use of silver in silicon solar cells from about 29 tonnes per GW to less than 5 tonnes per GW.”
He noted that the objective of a cumulative installation of 70 or 80 TWs by 2055 is achievable with a simple annual growth of the production rate of about 15% per year. However, pursuing this goal will result in a solar photovoltaic industry much larger than necessary which could lead to a significant downturn when the objective of 80 TW is reached.
“This negative impact can be avoided if we right now accelerate the growth during the next 10 years, and then stabilise the global production to 3 to 4 TW per year,” Verlinden said.