By Maura Forrest
April 24, 2014
Solar power has huge potential – more than other renewable energy sources “by a large magnitude” – to replace fossil fuels in meeting global energy demand.
In fact, global solar energy potential single-handedly exceeds world energy demand, according to the climate change mitigation report released last week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Altogether, renewable energy now accounts for over 20 percent of global electricity generation. Electricity production from solar power grew 25-fold between 2005 and 2012.
And solar generates more than just clean energy. The IPCC found that solar power requires up to 18 times more jobs than nuclear and seven times more than wind.
The findings also ring true in Canada. Solar potential in this country is far greater than in Germany, the current world leader in photovoltaic power. Alberta, especially, has enormous solar power potential, estimated at nearly one million-billion kilowatt hours per year. Calgary alone has more potential than Rio de Janeiro and Rome.
A 2010 study published by the Canadian Solar Industries Association predicted that Canadian solar energy will be market competitive by the end of the decade. It also forecasted that by 2025 “the solar industry will be supporting more than 35,000 jobs in the economy and displacing 15 to 30 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.”
So what barriers stand in the way of solar power development? The IPCC report found that in 2012, global investment in renewables was $244 billion (U.S.) with $140 billion invested in solar energy. Though that total is six times the 2004 level, it still lags behind gross investment in fossil fuel plants, which weighs in at $262 billion.
This investment in “long-lived fossil energy” locks economies in to high-carbon systems, the authors argue. They also list fossil fuel subsidies and the lack of a global carbon-pricing scheme as obstacles to the development of renewables like solar.
But the IPCC’s message is clear: The time to act is now. Without additional mitigation, global average temperature could increase by up to 4.8 degrees C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. That’s more than double the two-degree increase that climate scientists consider to be the point of no return for dangerous climate change.