Guest Post: Stewart on why solar’s future is bright

 Solar panels can deliver clean power where we need it, when we need it most, and will soon be cost-competitive with electricity from the grid. That’s the conclusion of the Solar Generation report released today in India by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) and Greenpeace International.
 
The report anticipates investment in the already-booming solar market to double over the next five years as solar PV capacity grows from 23 GW at the beginning of 2010 to 180 GW by 2015. And thanks to the cost reductions that come with mass production, production costs will be reduced by 40 per cent.
 
The two organizations are making the case that with the right policies (like the feed-in tariffs and priority grid access in Ontario’s Green Energy Act), solar PV could account for 5% of global power demand by 2020, and up to 9% by 2030. This would cut greenhouse gas emissions 1.4 billion tonnes per year (or over twice Canada’s total emissions and we’re in the top ten of global greenhouse gas polluters).
 
And while this report is a global overview, it is based on the Energy [R]evolution modelling whose Canadian results call for 1,000 MW of solar PV to be installed in Canada by 2015, 3000 MW by 2020 and 5,000 MW by 2030 in the Advanced scenario (called the ‘paradigm shift’ in the Solar Generation report). This is significantly more than in the IEA Reference Scenario where Canada installs only 1,000 MW of solar PV by 2020 and 2,000 MW by 2030, but the IEA does point out that their Reference Scenario (where no new actions are taken on climate change) would lead to six degrees of warming and “irreparable harm” to the planet.
 
Even the “paradigm shift” scenario isn’t looking too tough, however, when you consider that Ontario has already contracted for over 1,250 MW of solar power by adapting the very policies that were so successful in Europe. But if Canada is to meet and exceed the 2020 and 2030 targets, we need other provinces to pass their own Green Energy Acts and allow clean, renewable energy to replace polluting sources of power. We also need Ontario to leave space for green energy to continue to grow post-2015, by replacing its nuclear plants with green energy as they reach their end-of-life.
 
The Solar Revolution report was released in India, however, because the major growth in the solar industry in the coming decades will be in the developing world, where PV can not only be integrated into grids, but is also a great option for improving global equity and health by providing clean energy to communities which currently lack access to the grid. Recognizing this, India has committed to bringing 20 GW of solar power on-line by 2022.
 
Similarly, the Global Wind Energy Outlook (produced by the Global Wind Energy Council and Greenpeace International) was released in China earlier this month, as the Asian manufacturing powerhouses are rapidly becoming renewable energy leaders.
 
Let’s not let Canada get left behind.

Keith Stewart is climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Canada

NOTE: Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts solar could represent 4.3 per cent of U.S. electricity supply by 2020, in line with Greenpeace report. “Policy, rather than sunshine, will remain the U.S.’s greatest solar resource for the next few years,” said Milo Sjardin, Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s U.S. head of research. “By the middle of this decade, however, the U.S. retail solar market will be driven by fundamental, unsubsidized competition, which should transform the U.S. into one of the world’s most dynamic solar markets.”