To meet the daunting goal of the Paris Agreement of preventing the Earth’s average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above its level in pre-industrial times, one of the best options for the energy industry will involve switching to 100% renewable energy using solar and energy several other clean energy sources.
While no one knows exactly how a rise above 2 degrees Celsius would affect the planet, extraordinary climatic events would likely render many parts of the world uninhabitable, with significant desertification, ocean acidification and rise in sea water levels, as well as floods, forest fires and hurricanes and tornadoes .
Pierre J. Verlinden, founder of AMROCK Pty. Ltd. in Australia, in AIP Publishing’s Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy describes a model designed to predict what it will take the solar industry to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
“Our planet is on the path of an average temperature rise of 4 degrees Celsius by the end of this century relative to the pre-industrial age Earth temperature, and the result will be disastrous,” said Verlinden.
Climate experts predict that only 800 gigatons of carbon dioxide can be emitted before the 2-degree Celsius line is exceeded. This means that with the current global emissions of 36 gigatons per year, there is a time window of 35 years to reduce our emissions to zero.
One way to achieve this goal is to change the way energy is generated and used.
“Our vision is that solar photovoltaics can play a central role in a transformed sustainable energy economy in which 100% decarbonised electricity is generated directly or indirectly through the production of green hydrogen or other synthetic fuels in all energy sectors and industrial processes.” said Verlinden.
In addition to other renewable energy sources such as wind and water, the world will need around 70 to 80 terawatts of cumulative power from photovoltaic solar systems. This corresponds to more than 100 times the solar photovoltaic capacity installed worldwide.
“Over the next 10 years the industry must increase its production rate by a factor of 30,” he said.
A model developed by Verlinden and colleagues to predict the efficiency of solar cells and their manufacturing costs over the next few decades shows that “there is no fundamental obstacle to achieving this goal,” he said.
The financial need to increase the production rate (investments to build new production lines) decreases by 18% per year due to productivity improvements and a combination of higher throughput per tool, larger wafers and improved cell efficiency.
“In terms of material sustainability, the only major problem is the use of silver to metallize silicon solar cells,” said Verlinden. “We have to reduce the use of silver in silicon solar cells from around 29 tons per gigawatt to less than 5 tons per gigawatt.”
He warns that the goal of a cumulative installation of 70 or 80 terawatts by 2055 is achievable with a simple annual growth in production rate of around 15% per year, but pursuing that goal will result in a solar photovoltaic industry much larger than necessary . This could lead to a significant decrease once the 80 terawatt target is reached.
“These negative effects can be avoided if we accelerate growth over the next 10 years and then stabilize global production at 3 to 4 terawatts per year,” said Verlinden.
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