Studies Reveal Major Solar Energy Growth in Next 20 Years

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Solar market studies are popping up everywhere, and apparently, things have never been better. In an online presentation, power and energy market research company Frost & Sullivan revealed that global solar energy usage will more than quadruple by 2030.

Another study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in California confirmed that the rapid growth is largely because the cost of PV cells and modules is on a major decline.

Jonathan Robinson of Frost & Sullivan has spent 10 years in the energy research sector. He said prices are declining because overseas manufacturing is becoming more popular and making heavy advances in production and technology. Just days ago, one of the world’s largest PV module producing plants, JA Solar Holding, reported the development of cells with a 20% efficiency conversion rate.

“Of all the renewables,” says Robinson, “I think solar is having the most interesting time at the moment, in terms of how the technology’s developing.”

The predicted and evident success of the solar industry is causing utility companies to review their business approaches and adjust to the pushes and pulls of a government subsidy-driven market. Market growth is so sure that according to Robinson, in many countries, renewables will soon be able to compete without the help of government incentives — reaching grid parity.

“So we have a situation where some countries at various times — Germany, Italy, Spain — are actually finding times when solar can really challenge the conventional grid,” he said in an online presentation.

“And this is really likely to give quite a significant boost to the solar industry. Both to residential, but also more significant is the potential for commercial solar as well, where the costs there are really being driven down more.”

Solar energy market analysts predict a “utility death spiral” of sorts to occur as solar becomes more popular and as utility companies adjust to market trends. Some companies are lobbying to tax renewable energy users, in an attempt to reverse the trend. The “death spiral” predicts that dependency on old energy like gas and coal will wane and eventually clear out the market. Yet, the Frost & Sullivan study reveals just the opposite.

All energy sources will stay afloat, according to their findings, with major increases in the use of solar and coal, and sustained use of natural gas.

Gas is predicted to remain a viable energy source well into 2030 and beyond. Coal, Frost & Sullivan says, will remain the primary global source for electric energy — though that’s in contrast to the IEA projection that solar could take on that role by 2050. Frost & Sullivan finds that by 2040, North America will have retained its gas independence, China’s need for gas imports will increase, the Middle East will continue to have more than what it needs, and Europe’s dependence on gas imports will increase by 5.2TCF.

A closely related industry, the lithium-ion battery storage market, is predicted to grow rapidly in the coming years. Frost & Sullivan researchers call for this industry to go from an already vibrant $442 million to a $28.7 billion industry by 2020.

Frost and Sullivan Lithium-ion battery market

One thing is certain: Solar is getting big. By quadrupling its global energy usage in just two decades (1.9% to 9% by 2030), the solar industry is creating standalone markets and making irrevocable strides of its own.