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Solar Energy Can Power 25% of the World’s Electricity Needs by 2050

Source: Environmental 26, 2009

Concentrated solar power (CSP), using hundreds of mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays, could meet up to 7 percent of the world’s power needs by 2030 and 25 percent by 2050, according to a new joint report from Greenpeace International, the European Solar Thermal Electricity Association (ESTELA) and IEA SolarPACES. Even with moderate assumptions for future market development, the world could have a combined solar power capacity of over 830 gigawatts (GW) by 2050, with annual deployments of 41 GW, representing 3.0 to 3.6 percent of global demand in 2030 and 8.5 to 11.8 percent in 2050, according to the Global CSP Outlook 2009 report.

The report finds that CSP installations provided 436 megawatts (MW) of the world’s electricity generation at the end of 2008; however, projects under construction, primarily in Spain, will add at least another 1,000 MW by around 2011. Projects in the U.S. are expected to add up to 7,000 MW along with an additional 10,000 GW in Spain by 2017.

Greenpeace and the European Renewable Industry Council believe that CSP plays an important role in their joint global vision — the Energy [R]evolution scenario, which provides a blueprint for cutting energy-related CO2 emissions in order to help ensure that greenhouse gas emissions peak and then fall by 2015.

Investments of $14.4 billion in 2010 and increasing to about $128.5 billion in 2050 by countries with the most sun resources could create more than 200,000 jobs by 2020, and about 1.187 million in 2050, and save 148 million tons of CO2 annually in 2020, rising to 2.1 billion tons in 2050, according to the report.

Solar projects are starting to pick up around the globe.

As an example, France recently announced bidding for a large-scale solar energy project. Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo wants to build solar plants in each French region by 2011, for a cost of about euro1.5 billion ($2.03 billion), that would generate 300 MW of electricity, up from 69 MW today, reports the Boston Herald.

France ranks fourth in Europe in terms of total solar energy produced — behind Germany, Spain and Italy — with solar plants largely concentrated near the country’s southern coast and its overseas territories, according to the article.

In the U.S., Arizona Public Service (APS) and Starwood Energy Group Global, LLC announced plans to build a 290-MW concentrating solar plant, claimed as one of the largest in the world — to be built in Harquahala Valley, Ariz. It will produce enough electricity to power more than 73,000 APS customer homes. Lockheed Martin is set to design, build and operate the facility.

The Starwood Solar I, scheduled for completion in 2013, will be constructed on approximately 1,900 acres and include 3,500 parabolic mirrors that will focus solar thermal energy onto a heat transfer fluid. The hot fluid will convert water into steam, which then turns the plant’s turbines to create electricity, much like a traditional power plant, according to the press release. The plant also uses molten salt to store solar energy and can continue producing electricity for up to six hours after the sun goes down or through the period of highest electricity usage.