At the tipping point of a new energy era

January 02, 2019 // By Bart Onsia
In 2035, the world will be on an accelerated path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and eventually become carbon neutral by 2050. By then, electricity from renewable sources will be headed to become a major source of energy for power generation and transport in many parts of the world. This will call for a sustained technology improvement and a much-accelerated deployment from where we are today.

­­­ In the years up to 2035, the residential and industrial demand for electricity will keep on growing, especially if heating with gas and oil is phased out and replaced by electricity. In addition, in countries like Belgium, nuclear energy plants will no longer be part of the energy mix. Wind and solar energy will have to fill a large share of the gap. According to recent studies, there is enough potential to do so. But to make this reality, wind and solar energy generation will have to grow tremendously. In tandem, the usage efficiency of electricity will be improved, with buildings insulated to be energy-neutral, heating provided by heat pumps and heating grids, building-integrated photovoltaics, smarter micro- and nanogrids running on DC, and mass energy storage.


Cheaper than alternatives

The cost of electricity from solar panels has already gone down tremendously over the past years, and it is expected that it will be further reduced leading up to 2035. That will eventually and in most circumstances make solar energy more cost-efficient compared to other forms of electricity generation, even in countries where the sun doesn’t always shine abundantly. The cost comparison will be even more positive when we take into account that carbon-based electricity generation will become progressively more expensive due to carbon taxing schemes.

If we look at the cost of a typical solar installation today, less than half of the price is subsumed by the actual panels. The rest is made up by the electronics, support frames, cabling, and the manual labor – the so-called balance-of-system costs (BOS). The potential to further optimize the BOS costs is limited. So the most obvious way to make a solar installation more cost-efficient is to have it generate more electricity than it does today, mainly by improving the conversion efficiency and energy yield of the solar cells and modules.

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