Survey of Energy Resources 2007
Conclusion and Outlook
Great advances have been made in the development of solar energy technologies. Efficiencies have been improved and costs have been brought down by orders of magnitude. The technologies have become cost-effective for some applications. However, they are still too expensive for other applications such as grid electricity, unless environmental costs are accounted for or incentives are given for these technologies. At present, the markets for solar PV technologies are increasing at a rate of more than 35% per year and solar thermal power growth is expected to be even higher. However, these applications are starting from a very small or negligible base. Therefore, an even higher growth rate would be needed to reach the levels envisioned for the future. Strong public policies and political leadership are needed to move forward the application of solar and other renewable energy technologies, while maintaining robust research efforts to advance present technologies and develop new ones.
Countries whose governments have established firm goals for the penetration of renewable energy into primary energy and electricity generation, or have adopted specific policy mechanisms, are achieving great success. Examples are the successful feed-in laws adopted in several European countries, for instance, Germany and Spain; the Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) adopted by several of the American states, which ensures that a minimum amount of renewable energy is included in the portfolio of electricity production; and city ordinances requiring solar systems to be used for water heating in residential and commercial buildings. Appropriate policy measures have shown that solar applications can be boosted with many positive side effects, from the creation of new industries, new jobs and new economic opportunities, to the protection of the environment.
Energy conservation - through improvements in energy efficiency and decreases in energy intensity - is essential to increase the fractional contribution of renewable energy while meeting the energy needs of society.
Based on a review of the ongoing research in solar energy technologies, it is clear that they will continue to improve, promising higher efficiencies and lower costs. Examples of such promising new technologies beyond the horizon include continued development of new thin-film technologies, nano-scale antennas for conversion of sunlight to electricity, biological nano-scale PV, new concepts in solar desalination, visible light photocatalytic technologies for PV or environmental applications, and new thermodynamic cycles for solar thermal power. These developments are expected to help achieve the projected solar energy penetration levels by 2050 and beyond. However, in the meantime, it is essential to adopt policies that will ensure accelerated deployment of the present solar energy technologies.
D. Yogi Goswami
Past President, ISES;
Editor-in-Chief, Solar Energy Journal