The Future of Solar is So Bright We’ve Gotta Wear Shades

The Future of Solar is So Bright We’ve Gotta Wear Shades

Led by our super positive co-founders Joe and Herve—pictured above at a company tubing party—here at Ipsun we're always looking for good news in the fight against climate change. And believe it or not, great news came our way recently in a report put out by BP.

The BP Statistical Review of World Energy is one of the most well regarded and widely utilized publications in energy economics. It's valued by governments, academics, and professionals worldwide, and this year’s publication included some eye-opening data about renewable energy. 

Yes, it’s the same BP that greenwashes its way to climate destruction and excessive profit every quarter. But this report, produced annually since the 1960s, is a trove of empirical data on energy production and consumption, power generation, trade flows, and other aspects of today’s energy system. Here are a few of the highlights that gave us reason to celebrate.

Renewable generation accounted for over half the increase in global power generation since 2020

Primary energy demand increased by 5.8% in 2021 (exceeding 2019 levels by 1.3%) showing that we’re back up to typical energy usage after the pandemic’s hiatus—and growing. This is to be expected now that we're back to some kind of normal activity levels, but how we’re generating the power to meet that demand is the exciting part. 

“Encouragingly, renewable energy, led by wind and solar power, continued to grow strongly and now accounts for 13% of total generation. Renewable generation (excluding hydro) increased by almost 17% in 2021 and accounted for over half of the increase in global power generation over the past two years,” said Spencer Dale, BP chief economist, in the report’s foreword. 

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“The low carbon energy sources, vectors and technologies needed to achieve a fast and deep decarbonization exist today – wind and solar power, biofuels, blue and green hydrogen, CCUS (carbon capture, use and storage), and carbon dioxide removals. The challenge is to apply them at unprecedented pace and scale,” Dale said. 

In 2021, wind and solar exceeded 10% of the global energy mix for the first time ever

The report shows that wind and solar reached a 10.2% share of power generation in 2021. It's the first time wind and solar power have provided more than 10% of global power and surpassed the contribution of nuclear energy.

2021 energy sources by percentage

Of the two, solar is the smaller contributor, but with the faster growth rate. Since 2007, annual installations of photovoltaic power generation have grown from 22 gigawatts to about 240 gigawatts expected this year. That’s a compounded rate of 34.5%, meaning it takes barely more than two years for annual installations to double, on average.

Solar’s growth is projected to be exponential through 2033 according to BloombergNEF

Things get even more hopeful as we look forward. While the BP report shows that wind and solar grew at an extraordinary rate in the past two decades, forecasted data from BloombergNEF shows that we’re nowhere near our peak. 

Bloomberg reports that “historical growth pales in comparison to projected solar installations in our most renewables-intensive scenario for decarbonization.” 

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In that scenario, the rate of solar installations will peak by 2033 and level off through 2050. That rate is more than four times higher than we're at today, equaling more than a terawatt a year--which is about one-eighth the total generation capacity of the global electricity system right now. The pace of installations will slow by the middle of the century, but that leveled off rate will still be more than double what BloombergNEF expects in 2022.

It gives us so much hope to see the solar and wind markets continue to grow like an unstoppable freight train. So while we may still despair at the relative inaction on global climate policy, right now we're focused on the positive. As long as wind and solar remain the least expensive way to produce energy, they will keep growing. And we will keep working, panel by panel, to build the renewable energy future we need. 

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