The cost of solar power has significantly dropped over the past twelve years, experiencing an 89% decrease from 2010 to 2022. Similarly, the price of batteries, crucial for balancing solar energy supply, underwent a massive reduction from 2008 to 2022.
These advancements raise an important question: have we reached a turning point where solar energy is on the verge of becoming the primary source of electricity generation? This is the question that a recent study aimed to address.
The Nature Communications study
A new study published in the journal Nature Communications suggests that the solar revolution has indeed arrived. Solar energy is projected to account for over half of global electricity generation by the middle of the century, even if governments don’t embrace further climate action.
This projection surpasses all previous expectations. In 2022, the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s World Energy Outlook estimated that solar will make up just 25% of electricity production by mid-century.
The researchers, based out of University College London and the University of Exeter, identified two key factors that will drive the rapid expansion of solar energy. These factors are affordability and quick construction timelines.
According to The Conversation, it typically takes just one year to complete the construction of a solar farm. This is less than half the time it takes to build an offshore wind farm.
The shorter construction timeframe of solar farms allows investors to take advantage of their cost-effectiveness earlier compared to wind farms.
These factors create a reinforcing cycle. As producers and installers gain more experience, prices are expected to further decline, making solar energy even more enticing to investors.
The study anticipates a 60% drop in the average cost of generating solar electricity from 2020 to 2050.
If these predictions hold true, solar energy is expected to become the most cost-effective option for power generation worldwide by 2030. It’s projected to be 50% cheaper than building new coal-fired power plants in six major regions: the EU, US, India, China, Japan, and Brazil.
Therefore, countries that continue to rely on fossil fuel-based infrastructure run the risk of compromising their economic competitiveness.
The study’s findings are confirmed by other data. According to CleanTechnica, the European Union will achieve its 2030 solar generation goal three years early.
Lithium scarcity: an obstacle to solar growth?
The Nature Communications study also discussed obstacles to solar’s growth. One of the main obstacles highlighted was that solar panel systems require lithium-ion batteries to function.
Lithium is a rare metal. If lithium supplies continue to dwindle, solar panel costs are likely to rise.
However, there’s reason to believe that fears about lithium scarcity are overblown.
In September, a massive lithium deposit was discovered in the McDermitt Caldera in the western United States. The lithium deposit is estimated at 120 million tons. This is 12 times more lithium than has ever been discovered at one site on Earth.
Moreover, battery innovations could lead to lower-cost alternatives to lithium-ion batteries. In 2022, Bluetti announced that it had created a sodium-ion battery that could be used for home solar systems. Sodium-ion batteries are cheaper and safer than lithium-ion ones.