A new report released yesterday by the Solar Energy Industries Association(SEIA) predicts that, by2020, global solar capacity could reach 980 gigawatts. One gigawatt (GW) is enough to power roughly 200,000 American homes.
The report was released in Cancun, Mexico, where United Nationsleaders are meeting throughout early December in order to decide whether or not to extend the Kyoto Protocol. SEIA’s report couldn’t have been more timely.
According to the trade group’s numbers, the United States would haveto install 139 GW worth of solar capacity if the world is to reach the2020 prediction. That would mean that, within a decade, 4.9 percent ofall of the energy used in the U.S. would come from solar power. Thatfigure now stands at less than one percent. It would also mean that683,000 Americans would be working in the solar energy sector, and theprice of installed solar panels will have dropped from its current rateof $5.71 per watt to $2.32 per watt.
There are some naysayers who believe the SEIA report’s figures aretoo high. Vice President of Marketing at SolFocus, Nancy Hartsoch, isamong them. Her Palo Alto, California-based company makes concentratingsolar photovoltaic (PV) panels, and she says there are two reasons why980 GW by 2020 is unlikely. One is that a tremendous amount of moneywill be needed just to make the materials needed to reach such agigawatt figure — money that simply isn’t available right now. Thesecond reason is that, throughout most of the world, solar energy hasyet to reach grid parity — the point at which solar energy is equal toor cheaper in cost than traditional grid power energy.
The adoption of that much solar power likely means that muchstricter clean energy policies would have to be adopted aroundthe globe, which is the point of the current Cancun, Mexico meetings. On December 6, the solar groups present at the meetings will discuss thesolar standards of 20 countries and the European Union. What resultsfrom those talks may either support or discredit SEIA’s 980-GW thesis.