According to the latest edition of the Global Solar Demand Monitor authored by Green Tech Media (GTM), the global capacity of solar power will likely reach 871 gigawatts by the year 2022 – more than double today’s nuclear capacity. The outlook is rather promising for solar capacity – with GTM estimated close to 390 gigawatts of solar PV plants spread across the globe by the end of 2017. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, there are 391.5 gigawatts of nuclear plants operating around the world. By December 31st, there is a distinct possibility solar PV could surpass nuclear capacity.
Solar Capacity Projections
Even though forecasts predict a “slower” year for solar energy, expectations have been surpassed in every major category (installation, capacity, usage, etc.). Even though the global solar market predicts a 4-gigawatt downward slide in projected installations, the 81 gigawatts of installed solar in 2017 is “more than double the amount of solar capacity installed in 2014.” According to GTM, that’s “32x’s more solar deployed a decade ago” and in the year 2000, only the world had only “150 megawatts of solar energy installed.”
Responsible for tracking the global solar industry, GTM is predicting continued solar growth over the next five years. With that being said, solar is only rivaling nuclear in the category of raw capacity and not electricity generated. This is an important distinction. According to GTM, nuclear generates 2,476,671 gigawatt-hours of electricity every year – approximately 11% of the global generation. Conversely, solar generates 375,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity annually (1.8% of the global generation) and a far cry from nuclear electricity production.
“Yet again, China will be the key driver, and we retain our Q1 2017 assumption that Chinese demand in 2017 will account for 39% of the global market.”
Nuclear Power Faltering
So will solar power eventually reduce the world’s reliance on nuclear power? The answer, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) is yes. After researching PV growth rates in 2014, the IEA predicts that the world “could get 16% of its electricity from PV by 2050.” The road to making solar power the predominant energy source across the globe depends on China getting on board the solar power train, the continued support for the Paris Agreement, and renewable energy companies like Tesla pushing the technological envelope when it comes to solar power capacity. With the unveiling of the PowerWall 2 and solar panel roof, it seems like Elon Musk and Tesla are right on schedule.
“The rapid cost decrease of photovoltaic modules and systems in the last few years has opened new perspectives for using solar energy as a major source of electricity in the coming years and decades,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. “However, both technologies are very capital intensive: almost all expenditures are made upfront. Lowering the cost of capital is thus of primary importance for achieving the vision in these roadmaps.”
For the last three straight years, the global solar energy trend is looking very promising. Installations are trending up, harnessing technology is improving, and solar power is becoming an affordable addition to the home. The same cannot be said for nuclear power. According to GTM, high costs, slow construction, and competitive renewable alternatives has the “global nuclear industry faltering.”