Solar to be 30% of global capacity by 2040, a 1500% growth story

From just 4% of installed capacity in 2015, solar will rise to become the largest installed capacity energy source by 2040, increasing to 30% of total, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

In 2015, the total global electricity installed capacity was 6412 GW, of which solar had 4%. By 2040, the total global electricity capacity would have more than doubled, to 13,464 GW. Of this, solar will have 29%

All the while, coal’s share of installed capacity would have declined from 31% as of 2015 to 16% by 2040.

In fact, the BNEF report suggests that only solar and wind will have their contribution shares increase (wind from 7% currently to 13% by 2040). All other major energy sources (coal, nuclear, gas and hydro) will see their % shares go down.

Here’s the table (credit: Bloomberg New Energy Finance)

Energy source                                     == 2015 == 2040

Total installed capacity (GW)                6418       13464

(all data in %s from here on)

Coal                                                             31             16

Gas                                                               26             15

Nuclear                                                         5              4

Hydro                                                            18            12

Wind                                                              7               13

Solar                                                               4               29

Flexible capacity                                           2               8

Others                                                             7                 4


So, coal has about 2000 GW installed capacity now, and by 2040, it will have a total installed capacity of about 2150 GW, a very marginal increase. (For gas, it will be from 1670 GW now to 2020 GW by 2040, an increase of just about 20% in 25 years!)

Solar, on the other hand, will increase from about 250 GW currently to 3900 GW by 2400, a whopping 1500% increase.

Let’s consider the growth of the other major renewable energy source – wind. Wind’s installed capacity shows a growth from the current about 450 GW to 1750 GW by 2040. Sure, a growth of 290% looks formidable, but looks far less remarkable when compared to the extra-ordinary growth projections for solar, given that both wind and solar power have comparable total installed capacities currently.

All hail solar.

Oh well, not so fast, actually. Why not?

While coal will have 2150 GW of capacity with solar having almost double that (3900 GW) by 2040, electricity generation from coal would still be much higher than that for solar. This is because many coal-based thermal power plants run at perhaps 80% PLF while solar power plants will have on average perhaps 20% CUF by 2040.

So well, coal will thus be likely generating a bit more than twice the electricity as that of solar even by 2040, assuming most coal power plants are run to reasonable capacity utilizations.

Sure, 2:1 in favour of coal by even by 2040 doesn’t sound pleasing enough, but would you not agree that it is far better than the 40:1 in its favour right now?

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  1. Pingback: Can the entire world run on solar power alone? – Cleantech.Guide

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