Can we build enough carbon-free energy fast enough to avert catastrophic climate change without having to power this energy transition with fossil fuels that would undermine the whole transition? The answer is “yes,” and here’s why.
The “global solar photovoltaic industry is likely now a net energy producer,” concluded a Stanford study released last year. That was followed by a very detailed analysis, Energy Balance of the Global Photovoltaic (PV) Industry, by post-doc Michael Dale and Global Climate & Energy Project director Sally Benson. They examined how much energy is consumed during the entire lifecycle of the production process for every major kind of PV system.
Perhaps their most important conclusion was this:
If current rapid growth rates persist, by 2020 about 10 percent of the world’s electricity could be produced by PV systems … if the energy intensity of PV systems continues to drop at its current learning rate, then by 2020 less than 2 percent of global electricity will be needed to sustain growth of the industry.
As we’ll see below, the energy intensity of solar PV systems has continued to drop in recent years — and is all but certain to continue doing so. That means the solar industry will be generating a vast surplus of carbon free power in the coming years and decades. . . .