Solar energy is particularly appropriate when looking at enabling the low-carbon development of developing countries, where nearly 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity. In general, poorer countries tend to enjoy a relatively high level of solar resources, with a direct correlation between solar irradiance and GDP per capita. Solar energy, therefore, can not only mitigate carbon emissions, but also improve the quality of life of many nations. We need to embrace solar electricity generation concertedly and swiftly.
Harnessing solar energy — producing “clean energy” — as an effective way to lower our footprint by relying less on fossil fuels is no longer futuristic. Solar power represents a vast resource which could, in principle, meet the world’s needs for low-carbon power generation many times over. The technology to generate solar power by conversion of light to electricity (PV) and conversion of light to power via heat (solar thermal) is already proven and widely deployed.
Within Grupo Futuro, and conscious of the need of actively incorporating solar energy into our daily activities, Tecniseguros, Seguros Equinoccial, Finch Bay Hotel in the Galapagos Islands, and Metropolitan Touring have installed solar panels in their office buildings, and now these generate an important percentage of their energy needs.
The cost reductions in solar PV over the last ten years now make it competitive with conventional, fossil fuel-based grid power in some locations, and it will soon be competitive in others, including the UK. Solar power is particularly relevant in the developing world, where solar resource is high and solar power coupled with storage is soon likely to become a more cost-effective option than diesel generators.
Recent growth in the use of photovoltaic (PV) technology (of around 40% per year) and rapid reduction in its cost (20% per doubling of capacity) has demonstrated the potential of solar power to deliver on a large scale.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that solar power could generate 22% of the world’s electricity by 2050. This would remove a significant proportion of the growing global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil generation. Such a target is ambitious but achievable: the rate of growth of installed capacity needed to meet this target is much lower than the actual average growth rate over the last 20 years.
In a low-carbon world where balancing generation from fossil fuels may be limited, the main challenge in achieving these high penetration levels will be the capacity of energy systems to manage the consequent variability in supply. In energy systems with extensive electricity grids, flexibility can be provided in several ways, enabling solar PV to provide a large percentage of energy demand. Energy storage and large-scale power distribution networks therefore become critical complementary technologies to solar power generation.
The Sun’s radiation provides on average 1.73 x 1017J of energy to the Earth every second. The Earth’s graph shows the annual average intensity of radiation over the Earth’s surface, which varies between around 100 and 250 W/m2 due to variations in latitude and climate. Despite this vast potential, only 0.3% of global primary energy demand and 0.5% of global electricity demand is currently met by solar energy. Low carbon development pathways forecast that by 2050 some 14% to 22% or more of electric power should be supplied by solar conversion. In such pathways, solar, along with other low-carbon technologies, plays a vital role in decarbonizing the power sector.
QUICK CONVERSION FOR UNDERSTANDING EQUIVALENCIES
We have Finch Bay Hotel’s outstanding example in the Galapagos Islands, which installed 364 solar panels and are expected to generate nearly 300,000 kWh/year. In terms of environmental equivalencies, that amount of energy has some interesting numbers to look at:
21.6 Ton in annual emissions of CO2
5 gasoline-powered passenger vehicles driven for a year
Over 4 US homes’ electricity use for one year
2,631,096 smartphones fully charged
Carbon sequestered by 358 tree seedlings grown for 10 years
Find out more about Finch Bay
Hotel efforts in solar energy here
News that might interest you:
The calculation of carbon reserves in forests: an essential mechanism to create incentives for the conservation of ecosystems
Capturing CO2 emissions through forest conservation is a solution that individuals, companies, and countries can leverage to address climate change
In an increasingly digitalized world, we have become disconnected from nature and diminished our intention to seek connection with it. However, it is possible to harness technology itself to disseminate and share the stories of the natural world and reconnect with it from a perhaps unconventional perspective: sound.
Transporting ourselves from A to B requires efficiency and responsibility, but it must remain sustainable.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to vehicle transport, but realistically we won’t be able to replace all vehicles in one shot. If we see this as a personal responsibility towards sustainability, understanding private vehicle transport can also contribute to reducing our environmental footprint. We just need to adjust our sails a bit.