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Climate Action 2009-2010


TECHNOLOGY CA3-27/EPIA_1 Photovoltaics: TOMORROW’S TECHNOLOGY AVAILABLE TODAY A roof formed of optimally-inclined solar panels. SOLAR ENERGY 86 Adel el GAmmAl Secretary General of the european photovoltaic induStry aSSociation With the window of opportunity closing fast for constructive agreement on climate change, there is one carbon-free energy system – photovoltaics – that is performing so well that it merits the name of tomorrow’s technology, available today. In this article, Adel El Gammal summarises the advantages and advances in the techniques of harnessing the energy of sunshine, and shows how investment now can bring a positive yield in a very short time. In the countdown to COP 15, a sense of urgency is soaring, while there is increasing doubt on the likelihood of reaching any ambitious binding agreement. To give it its full name, the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will take place in Copenhagen in early December 2009. Developed countries are relenting on their demands for developing countries to agree to long-term cuts in emissions, but major emerging economies led by China and India are refusing to sign up. Governments from both sides of the Atlantic are now attempting to build consensus on a less ambitious agreement, by softening their call for a global target of halving emissions by 2050. Discussions are also intensifying on the crucial subject of the transfer of intellectual property from developed to developing economies. Equally critical are the discussions on agreeing the level of financial support that is needed from developed economies to support developing countries adapting to global climate change, and how this funding will be articulated. “ To put global emissions on a trajectory that is compatible with respecting this temperature ceiling, industrialised countries need to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to 25-40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 “ The EU is pressing for an ambitious and comprehensive agreement that will prevent global warming from reaching the dangerous levels – more than two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial temperature – that are projected by the scientific community if the world continues with business as usual. VISIT: WWW.CLIMATEACTIONPROGRAMME.ORG

TECHNOLOGY Scientific evidence shows that, to put global emissions on a trajectory that is compatible with respecting this temperature ceiling, industrialised countries need to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to 25-40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, while developing countries should limit their rapid emissions growth to around 15–30 per cent below projected business as usual levels in 2020. Global emissions need to peak before 2020 and then be cut by at least 50 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050. The EU has shown leadership by committing unconditionally to cut its emissions to at least 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and is implementing the climate and energy package. Moreover, it has committed to scaling up its emission cut to 30 per cent on condition that other industrialised countries agree to make comparable reductions and that economically more advanced developing countries contribute adequately to a global deal. PHOTOVOLTAICS: THE FUTURE HERE AND NOW Already massively available We have the technology to begin the move to a sustainable energy economy, here and now. In fact, it is already happening; we have entered the renewable energy age, and investors have flocked to the sector. In 2008, total investment in the clean energy sector reached $150 billion, up from just $34 billion in 2004. Particularly in the electric power sector, traditional energy giants are staking more and more of their future on renewable energy. In Europe last year, more than 4.5 GW of photovoltaics (PV) were installed, representing the third largest capacity installations after wind and gas, and comparable – in terms of installed capacity – to building, installing and commissioning four nuclear reactors in a single year. Worldwide, PV installations have grown at an impressive pace over the last years, with market volumes more than doubling year on year. The cumulative installed capacity has been growing at a rate of about 40 per cent over the last five years, representing at the end of 2008 about 15 GW worldwide, and 9.5 GW in the 27 member states of the European Union alone. Virtually limitless capacity PV uses sunshine as its only fuel. The sun irradiates every year on the continents about 2,000 times the global primary energy demand, i.e. what the world consumes as energy, in whatever form, every year. And it is expected to shine for another 5 billion years. Furthermore, the technology has no material or industrial limitation. Most PV cells are today built from silicon, the second most abundant material (after oxygen) in the earth’s crust. Industry has also shown in the last years a virtually limitless capacity to grow rapidly and adapt to the soaring demand. Best in class environmental payback As for any technology, building a PV system requires energy which is embodied in the system (also called grey energy). Under the effect of rapid technology advances, the usage of energy intensive materials has been reduced to very low levels. A solar panel today has typically an environmental payback time between one and two years; this means that panels that will deliver electricity for more than their typical guaranteed lifetimes of 25 years will restore the energy that was used to produce them in less than two years. For some thin film technologies, this payback time is already as low as seven months. Furthermore, payback times are constantly being reduced under relentless technology advances, making PV one of the best in class technologies in terms of environmental payback. Available today at competitive and reducing prices Rapid technological evolution and steep price decline have brought PV close to competitiveness in most regions. With its high technology content, PV has demonstrated a consistent price decrease over the last 30 years and has still a huge cost reduction potential. Under the current market development pace, more than a halving of the price of PV can be expected every eight years. This has immense implications, as the cost of PV electricity is mainly dependent on the initial system price. By 2020, the cost of PV electricity is expected to be as low as ten euro cents per kWh for larger systems, and well below 15 euro cents per kWh for residential systems, making PV by then a highly competitive energy source. In Europe, PV is expected to become competitive in 2010 with residential prices in some southern regions. By 2020, PV could become competitive for as much as 60–75 per cent of the EU electricity market. A potent CO 2 saver A recent study conducted by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) indicated that, provided the electrical network infrastructure evolves to accommodate increasing penetration of intermittent renewable sources, and a temporary appropriate market support is available, PV could generate as much as 12 per cent of the total electricity demand in Europe by 2020. Such a penetration would enable savings in excess of 200 million tonnes of CO 2 every year in Europe only. In USA, the preliminary results of the study converge to the same level of potential PV penetration by 2020. “ PV could generate as much as 12 per cent of the total electricity demand in Europe by 2020 “ Global demand for energy has been increasing at a breathtaking pace, and this is particularly true in China, India and other rapidly developing economies. This sharp increase in world energy demand will require significant investment in new power generating capacity, especially in the developing world. Another study conducted by EPIA reveals that in the ‘sunbelt countries’ with latitudes of less than 35 degrees north or south, double digit market penetrations could also be reached in the next decade without market SOLAR ENERGY 87 VISIT: WWW.CLIMATEACTIONPROGRAMME.ORG