Solar Power on the Brink of Breakthrough

It's Time to Act!

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Feature story - October 27, 2010
A new study projects that solar investments are set to rocket, firing-up job creation, and further highlighting why South Africa needs its energy [R]evolution.

As South Africa prepares to unveil plans this week for what has been referred to as "the world's largest solar power plant", a new report by Greenpeace shows how the solar power industry is set to boom world-wide.

Renewable Energy drive in the Center of Patna, India.

This striking, four storey high, globe-shaped structure runs on renewable energy only, and was set up to drive home the message that Bihar, an energy starved state in India, could be run on renewable energy.

Research presented today in India by Greenpeace International and the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) projects that Solar photovoltaic could account for 5% of global power demand by 2020 -- and up to 9% by 2030. It's also projected that investments in solar photovoltaic (PV) will double from €35 billion to €70 billion by 2015.

At the same time, costs for PV systems are expected to almost halve (-40%). As a result solar power systems will become competitive with current electricity costs in most industrialised countries. This so-called “grid parity” will change the PV market significantly.

Solar Power to Combat Climate Change

“Solar photovoltaic is a key technology to combat climate change and to secure access to clean electricity. Today’s figures show that the technology is on the brink of an economic breakthrough,” said Sven Teske, Senior Energy Expert at Greenpeace International. “By 2015, the market could be twice as big as today, leading to a €70 billion investment. Our goal is to make solar photovoltaic a mainstream power source through more supportive polices around the world.”

A solar World Cup

Just two days before the kick-off of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, students of the Madiba-a-Toloane High School install 26 120W solar panels on the roof of the school hall.

The challenge lies in translating the potential of solar energy into a reality. Greenpeace Africa Energy Campaigner Nkopane Maphiri says “the Upington Solar Park illustrates the fact that there remains a sizable need to develop incentives for investment in a programme to create large numbers of 'green jobs', namely, employment in industries and facilities that are designed to mitigate the effects of climate change”.

The Many Benefits of Solar

In addition to its environmental benefits, solar energy is a sustainable way to address concerns about energy security and volatile fossil fuel prices, as well as a substantial factor in economic development. The PV industry, which already employs about 230,000 people worldwide, could provide jobs to 1.3 million workers by 2015. By 2050, this figure could stand at 5 million.

Greenpeace Africa put solar to test during the Soccer World Cup earlier this year. The idea was to demonstrate the possibilities of solar by using it to create a public viewing area where World Cup games could be shown to the people of Jericho, a villiage with little access to electricity. The project was a huge success in the end, ensuring that no one from Jericho missed a minute of the action!

These feasibility of solar as part of South Africa's energy mix is echoed in a report by Greenpeace Africa earlier this year. It found that switiching from investments in fossil fuels to those in rewnewables could generate a net increase of 78,000 new jobs in South Africa by 2030. The switch could also mean a 60% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 (compared to 2005 levels).

The Mail & Guardian reports that the Upington solar project is expected to cost in the region of R200bn. Its hoped that the project will create a "solar hub" in the provice, regenerating the local economy with fresh sustainable jobs. Plans are that the plant would be contributing to the national power grid by as early as 2012.

You can download the the report's executive summary here:
Solar Generation 2010