Abe Issa on Analyzing the Role of Solar Energy in the Transition to a Low-carbon and Sustainable Energy System Worldwide
Solar energy faces a key growth phase in the 2020s as worldwide trends focus even more on renewable energy. Goals for clean energy are high, but solar is expected to take a key role in getting there – and that’s leading to interesting opportunities in 2023 and the coming few years. More projects than ever are going online: Here’s what we see.
Solar Investment Rises Above Fossil Fuels
2023 has been a huge year for solar energy, resolving some of the slowdowns experienced during the COVID lockdowns while planning even more for the future. Most notably, investment in solar energy around the globe is expected to rise higher this year than investment in coal, gas, and oil — reaching around $1.7 trillion.
We’ll explore some drivers for this growth below, but it’s a vital benchmark that shows just how seriously the world is taking a new focus on clean energy. And there’s still lots of room for more growth. Most of the current investment comes from more advanced economies, while others still lag behind despite plenty of potential.
Supply Chains are Enabling Speedy Change
2023 is also the year that many supply chains came back online, fix the knots that developed during the COVID-19 pandemic and diversifying sourcing. With the improvements in logistics, this year has seen speedy renewable growth, much of it led by solar power.
Key components include not only solar panels, but vital EV (electric vehicle) parts, grid equipment, and storage systems such as batteries. The recovery is in full effect, which is why the early quarters of 2023 look so much better than the same time frame in years past.
Wars, Laws, and Geopolitics
Other changes have also increased focus on solar investment. Oil uncertainty quickly followed on the heels of the war in Ukraine, bolstered not only by actions of war but also related embargos and rapidly-shifting alliances. It’s no surprise that many nations, particularly in the western world, looked to decrease their dependence on foreign oil. Solar energy has been a key part of this shift.
But war and alliances aren’t the only drivers for new solar action. New laws around the world are easing restrictions on renewable energy options and allocating more funding for investment. That includes the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States, which has begun funding clean energy projects in 2023.
The Biggest Solar Investors
Where is most of the new solar investment happening around the world? China remains king of clean energy, not only dominating solar panel manufacturing but investing more in solar and wind energy than any other country at the time. It’s no surprise that next in line with current clean tech investment is the European Union, which has scrambled to find more energy independence since the invasion of Ukraine.
Coming in third is the United States, bolstered by continued investment but still ramping up and expected to make great gains by the end of 2023 thanks to the IRA. Other major contenders include Japan and large-scale solar work in India. Two of the fastest-growing areas throughout these nations
This list isn’t especially surprising, but missing from it are major economies in the global south, where great potential remains. It has been hindered recently by sharp shifts in government, struggles with inflation, and a number of other priorities. South America and Africa both bear watching as the 2020s continue.
Our Next Key Tipping Point
As the 2023 BBC analysis on tipping points shows, solar energy has already reached a number of important, positive tipping points recently. One of the most important that 2023 has seen progress is a change in affordability. Previously, investment in new solar infrastructure had already become more affordable (under the right conditions) than creating new fossil fuel infrastructure. Now, we’re passing an even more important point — new solar infrastructure investment is becoming cheaper than existing fossil fuel processes.
This is particularly noticeable in coal, but essentially fossil fuel generation and the requirements involved have become more costly in many cases than diverting investment to solar. The key is finding a balance where fuel production (again, incredibly important geopolitically in 2023, which is why countries like America have increased natural gas production) remains steady but more investments turn their focus to solar.
The Future: Floating Farms and Much More
Future technologies shine bright for the next decade of solar, too. Materials call perovskites promise more efficient panel manufacturing than ever before. More advanced sensors have the ability to upgrade current arrays with better sun-tracking technology. Other installations are taking it a step further and moving out to water, building floating solar arrays ready for city reservoirs that could provide power to cities around the world.