Perspective

The underestimated potential of solar energy to mitigate climate change

  • Nature Energy 2, Article number: 17140 (2017)
  • doi:10.1038/nenergy.2017.140
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Abstract

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's fifth assessment report emphasizes the importance of bioenergy and carbon capture and storage for achieving climate goals, but it does not identify solar energy as a strategically important technology option. That is surprising given the strong growth, large resource, and low environmental footprint of photovoltaics (PV). Here we explore how models have consistently underestimated PV deployment and identify the reasons for underlying bias in models. Our analysis reveals that rapid technological learning and technology-specific policy support were crucial to PV deployment in the past, but that future success will depend on adequate financing instruments and the management of system integration. We propose that with coordinated advances in multiple components of the energy system, PV could supply 30–50% of electricity in competitive markets.

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Acknowledgements

The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union's Seventh Programme FP7/2007-2013 under grant agreement no. 308329 (ADVANCE).

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Torgauer Straβe 12–15, 10829 Berlin, Germany.

    • Felix Creutzig
    • , Peter Agoston
    •  & Gregory Nemet
  2. Sustainability Economics of Human Settlements, Technische Universität Berlin, Str. des 17. Juni 135, 10623 Berlin, Germany.

    • Felix Creutzig
  3. Fraunhofer Institut für Solare Energiesysteme ISE, Heidenhofstraβe 2, 79110 Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany.

    • Jan Christoph Goldschmidt
  4. Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Telegrafenberg, 14473 Potsdam, Germany.

    • Gunnar Luderer
    •  & Robert C. Pietzcker
  5. La Follette School of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin – Madison, 1225 Observatory Drive, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.

    • Gregory Nemet

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Felix Creutzig.

Supplementary information

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  1. 1.

    Supplementary Note 1

    Detailed electricity sector modeling with high shares of PV and wind