The Rise of Solar Power

A new research study has suggested that solar power is set to become the world’s most dominant power source by 2050.

There are, however, four barriers that could hinder this progress according to the study. Those are, the creation of stable power grids, the financing of solar in developing economies, the capacity within supply chains and political resistance.

The study, led by the University of Exeter and University College London as part of the Economic of Energy Innovation and System Transition (EEIST) project.

Dr Femke Nijsse, from Exeter’s Global Systems Institute stated that “The recent progress of renewables means that fossil fuel-dominated projections are no longer realistic. In other words, we have avoided the ‘business as usual’ scenario for the power sector.”

“However, older projections often rely on models that see innovation as something happening outside of the economy. In reality, there is a virtuous cycle between technologies being deployed and companies learning to do so more cheaply.”

“When you include this cycle in projections, you can represent the rapid growth of solar in the past decade and into the future. Traditional models also tend to assume the ‘end of learning’ at some point in the near future – when in fact we are still seeing very rapid innovation in solar technology.”

“Using three models that track positive feedbacks, we project that solar PV will dominate the global energy mix by the middle of this century.”

However, the researchers warn that solar-dominated electricity systems could become “locked into configurations that are neither resilient nor sustainable, with a reliance on fossil fuel for dispatchable power”.

Instead of trying to bring about the solar transition in itself, governments should focus policies on overcoming the four key “barriers”.

Grid resilience

The variability of solar generation due to day/night and weather variables means that the grid must be designed for this. Some measured may include investing in other renewables such as wind to balance out the source of energy, extensive storage and managed demand through schemes such as incentives to charge vehicles at non-peak times.

Access to finance

Currently the availability of finance is concentrated in high-income countries. This means despite the enormous potential lower-income regions such as Africa lack the solar finance needed.

Supply chains

The increase in solar will mean an increased demand for resources such as metals and minerals for panels and batteries for storage. These materials are already in high demand across many sectors. As renewable technologies increase across the world, the production of renewable technologies is expected to make up 40% of total mineral demand for copper and rare elements, and between 60 and 70% for nickel and cobalt, and almost 90% for lithium by 2040.

Political opposition

The transition to renewable technologies may put at risk up to 13 million livelihoods worldwide, working in the fossil fuel industry and dependent industries. This may increase economic pressure on governments around the world to resist change and protect these industries.

EEIST’s contributing authors are drawn from a wide range of institutions. For full institutional affiliations see

The contents of this study represent the views of the authors, and should not be taken to represent the views of the UK government, CIFF or the organisations to which the authors are affiliated, or of any of the sponsoring organisations.

Later this year, during COP28, a research team led by the University of Exeter will publish the first Global Tipping Points Report, the most comprehensive ever assessment of climate tipping points and positive tipping points that could help tackle the climate crisis.

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