One thing that is abundantly clear, is that there is no single silver bullet solution to achieve a zero carbon economy rather, multiple technologies will need to work together in an interlinked fashion in order to achieve the goal of a zero carbon economy. Broadly speaking the technologies needed to achieve a zero carbon economy can be divided into two` distinct categories; energy production and energy management. Some of the most critical technologies that fall under the umbrella of energy production include: solar power, wind power, hydro-electric, geo-thermal and “advanced” nuclear. While there are certainly other methods of clean energy production besides those mentioned above the five just mentioned will likely play the most critical role in the achievement of a zero carbon economy. When it comes to energy management the key future contributors are a bit more speculative. Most experts would agree that smart-grids (both macro and micro), energy storage systems, energy efficiency technology and building based energy management technology will all play a critical role in achieving a zero carbon economy. It is clear that achieving a clean energy economy will require a mix of many complimentary technologies.
While solar energy is projected by many to have a very significant future impact on global clean energy production, the current impact of solar energy on the global energy mix is trivial (6). For the remainder of this paper I will examine the technological, political and social barriers to the large-scale development of solar energy. In addition to identifying and examining the present barriers to large-scale solar energy roll out I will also attempt to analyze potential approaches to overcoming both existing and future barriers to the implementation of large-scale solar.
While the future may be promising for solar energy currently, it only accounts for a very small portion of the total global energy mix. According to The Renewable Energy Network for the twenty first century (REN21) as of 2014 the total amount of global solar energy installed is estimated at 177 Gigawatts (6) compared to a total global energy supply of 155,505 terawatt hours in 2015 according to the IEA (2). Without getting overly technical it is worthwhile to understand that a Gigawatt can be understood as 10^9 where as a Terawatt can be understood as 10^12, essentially a terawatt is several orders of magnitude larger than a Gigawatt. While the Gigawatt – terawatt comparison is a bit abstract it is a useful point of reference for understanding how far solar energy needs to progress in order to be the driving force of a carbon neutral economy.
There are many factors that need to be taken into consideration when planning how to bring solar energy closer to a globally impactful scale, but perhaps the most important and simple step that needs to take place is the massive scale up of solar panel installations around the globe. While achieving the massive scaling up of solar energy production is far from an easy task, it is worthwhile to examine what the impacts of a sharp rise in solar energy installations around the globe might look like in the context of the perpetuation of solar energy. The first and most obvious benefit of scaled up global solar installations is the associated cost decreases in both production and instillation of solar panels driven by the increased economies of scale. In compliment to the benefits derived from increases in economies of scale, if more investment was made into solar energy more investment would be made into solar energy research causing a potentially compounding growth effect. In terms of technological advancements associated with the growth of solar demand it can be projected that there would be advancements made in both the areas of solar panel design as well as solar panel manufacturing processes.
From a broader economic perspective all of the previously discussed benefits associated with the scaling up of solar panel production would also lower the cost of solar energy, resulting in a more cost competitive energy source. If solar energy were to become more cost competitive with non-renewable forms of energy production it would become much more difficult for national policy makers to deny the viability of solar energy as a major source of global power production. While presently the vast majority of solar energy installed globally has been in the private sector with some subsidization by government organizations, if solar energy is to play a major role in global power production it is essential that the technology be adopted by the public sector on a massive scale. In many ways it is useful to understand public sector solar adoption in the context of global public infrastructure.
While the adoption of solar energy production by the public sector is critical to the advancement of solar energy technology, the goal of globally impactful solar energy production cannot occur without the collaboration of the public and private sector on a global scale. Far more solar energy capacity has been installed in the form of small-scale installation rather than large-scale solar farms, however if solar energy is to play a significant role in the establishment of a zero carbon economy it is critical that multiple massive solar farms on a scale far larger than has been seen thus far will be installed. The instillation of global scale solar farms would not only require collaboration between the governments of many nations, but also collaboration between the global public and private sectors. Overall There are many steps that need to be taken before solar energy can reach a globally impactful scale, however one thing is clear; it will require substantial calibration between multiple global stakeholders.
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- http://graduatedegrees.online.njit.edu/msee-resources/msee-infographics/solar-the-large- and-small-scale/
- http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/energy_resources_materials/the_disruptive_potential_ of_solar_power
- http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-04-07/when-grid-says-no-wind-and-solar-power- companys-technology-helps-it-say-yes-again
- http://uotechnology.edu.iq/eretc/books/Scheer_The%20Solar%20Economy- Renewable%20Energy%20for%20a%20Sustainable%20Global%20Future-book.pdf