A new paper published in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy describes a model to predict what is required of the solar industry to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
The Paris Agreement’s goal of preventing Earth’s average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above its level in pre-industrial times could be achievable following a shift to renewable energy.
The exact consequences of a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise are unknown; however, scientists predict that extraordinary climatic events would likely make many parts of the world uninhabitable with significant desertification, ocean acidification, a rise of seawater level, and severe natural disasters.
In the paper published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy, Pierre J Verlinden, an adjunct professor at the University of New South Wales, Australia, describes a model developed to predict what is necessary for the solar industry to meet the Paris Agreement targets. Verlinden said: “Our planet is on the path of an average temperature increase of 4 degrees Celsius before the end of this century, with respect to the average Earth temperature before the industrial age, and the result will be catastrophic.”
Climate scientists estimate that 800 gigatons of carbon dioxide can be emitted before crossing the 2 degrees Celsius line. As the current global emission of carbon dioxide are 36 gigatons per year, there is a 35-year window to reduce our emissions to zero and meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.
Verlinden added: “Our vision is solar photovoltaics can play a central role in a transformed sustainable energy economy with 100% decarbonised electricity generation to power directly or indirectly — through the production of green hydrogen or other synthetic fuels — all energy sectors and industrial processes.”
A model developed by Verlinden and colleagues predicts the efficiency of solar cells and their cost to manufacture during the next few decades shows there “is no fundamental barrier to achieving this goal,” Verlinden said. The financial requirement to grow the production rate of solar cells is decreasing at a rate of 18% per year, driven by productivity improvements and a combination of higher-throughput per tool, larger wafers, and improved cell efficiency.
Verlinden said: “In terms of material sustainability, the only major issue is the use of silver for metallization of silicon solar cells. We need to reduce the use of silver in silicon solar cells from about 29 tons per gigawatt to less than five tons per gigawatt.”
The new paper cautions that while the objective of a cumulative installation of 70 or 80 terawatts by 2055 is achievable with a simple annual growth of the production rate of about 15% per year, pursuing this goal will result in a solar photovoltaic industry much larger than necessary, leading to a significant downturn when the objective of 80 terawatts is reached.