Look for the sun where it shines the most
Large-scale power generation is gradually shifting towards solar energy, whether in the form of photovoltaic technology or concentrated solar power.
Globally, solar technology accounts for only 1.2% of all power generated. But by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), this volume should increase to 27%. So we’re seeing exponential growth in solar technology.
“In the context of distributed electricity generation, photovoltaic panel technology has reached maturity”, says Philippe Buxant, director of ENGIE’s Corporate Renewable Energy programme. “Since the panels are produced on an industrial scale, in my view they face a bright future. Today, a megawatt-hour of electricity generated by photovoltaic panels costs less than $30 in some very sunny countries, and this price is expected to come down further. Solar parks are becoming increasingly common in Asia and the Middle East, further increasing their share in global power generation.”
China is investing heavily in solar technology, for two reasons:
- firstly, to meet some of its massive electricity needs in an environmentally friendly way and thus curb the pollution inherently linked to coal-fired power plants;
- secondly, to promote its own solar panel industry. China has become not only the biggest producer of solar panels, but also the largest market for them. Since it manufactures panels on an industrial scale, prices are falling.
Cheaper than gas
In addition, Middle East gas and oil-producing countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman, have become aware of the competitiveness of renewable energy.
Due to their abundant sunshine, solar power is cheaper there than any oil- or gas-based electricity generation. “The average yield of a gas-fired combined-cycle power station is just 50%”, explains Philippe Buxant. “This means you have to burn 2 megajoules (MJ) of natural gas to produce 1 MJ of electricity. Consequently, much of the primary energy used is lost.”
These countries are completing more and more large-scale projects to build photovoltaic parks or concentrated solar power plants. They will thus be able to export any oil and gas saved as a result.
Things are also moving in North Africa. This year, Algeria launched a major call for tenders for gigantic solar parks destined to generate a total of 4 gigawatts of solar energy. In Morocco, the first part of the Noor solar power plant has been opened. It is one of the largest concentrated solar thermal technology facilities in the world. The plant will be fully operational in 2018, supplying 1 million people with electricity and is an integral part of Morocco’s innovative energy policy. The North African country intends to produce 42% of its energy from sustainable sources by 2020 and 52% by 2030.
Read also: Solar power on a large scale.