The beginning of a new year is a time when one can reflect on his actions and impact on the world. 2022 was a challenging year worldwide for several reasons. The world had to go through many crises: climate, war, food supply chain, and energy. Many of the issues will go on in 2023 and later. As a solar manufacturer, we also reflected on the impact we can have regarding the climatic and energy crises. That’s why we are going to show you why we do what we do: why we believe in solar energy.
The trilemma of energy
Many countries in the world face energy challenges. These challenges are different in every country. They can be related to low electrification, aging power stations, high reliance on fossil fuels, depletion of fuel reserves, etc.
When selecting and financing new power stations, all countries must address several conflicting challenges, this is what we call the “trilemma of energy”. The trilemma of energy is used to highlight that each energy must be selected through an evaluation of 3 important factors: energy security, energy equity, and environmental sustainability.
Figure 1 – The trilemma of energy
Energy equity is about having affordable and accessible energy for each person, everywhere in the world.
Environmental sustainability is about producing energy without depletion of natural resources, to keep being able to produce energy in the future. This factor shows that energy must be produced more ecologically.
Energy security is about having access to enough energy without interruption, despite sudden changes in supply and demand, and available in the long term.
These three concerns are sometimes in conflict, which means regulators must sometimes trade off on one or more of these factors.
Can solar power help solve the trilemma of energy?
The magical solution doesn’t exist. The world will solve its energy and climate challenges by mixing several sources of energy. We do believe solar energy should play a big role in the future of energy.
Solar energy equity
According to the World Energy Outlook 2022 by IAE, renewables are the cheapest source of new electricity. IRENA estimated that the renewable power added in 2021 helped the world to save USD 55 billion from worldwide energy costs in 2022.
Despite the price increases of these last months, solar energy is still one the cheapest energy for electricity generation, everywhere in the world. The cost of technology has dropped compared to ten years ago. This trend was accelerated thanks to the price surge of natural gas. Future technological improvements will help decrease even more the cost of solar energy.
According to the World Economic Forum, solar will be the most important source of energy for electricity production in the world.
Figure 2 – Median technology costs by region
Solar energy environmental sustainability
Figure 3 – Global electricity generation from 2000 to 2021
In 2021, 58% of global electricity generation came from fossil fuels (coal and gas). Whereas wind and solar were the sources of 10.2% of the world’s electricity. This is a big issue as we need to reach net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
According to IEA, between 2020 and 2050, renewable energy share in electricity production should go from 29% and 90%. Solar energy will contribute to both greening electricity production and electrifying other sectors.
There are of course several environmental challenges for solar power that are being addressed now. The main issue is the use of key minerals for the manufacture of solar panels.
Solar power plants usually require more minerals than fossil fuel power plants. In addition to ecological issues, this can also bring supply-chain problems because of the geographical concentration of mines.
To tackle this issue, the PV industry is working on several solutions:
1. Developing solutions for the recycling of solar panels.
2. Improving the environmental and social impacts of mines: CO2 emissions, waste and water management, worker security, etc.
Solar power security
Electricity is a crucial issue because its production will consume 50% of the world’s energy in 2050, according to IEA projection. This is explained by the electrification of several sectors to reduce CO2 emissions. This high reliance on electricity makes energy security even more important.
In the Securing the Energy Transition report, released in January 2023, the World Economic Forum has listed several actions countries should take for a secure energy transition, for example：
-> They advocate for a diversified energy mix and state that countries should prioritize renewable energy, including solar energy, over fossil fuels.
-> Decarbonization through the electrification of other energy uses.
Solar energy, as a cheap and easily installed form of energy, will contribute greatly to decarbonization and the clean energy transition. And the future improvement of storage technologies will help solar energy become an even more dispatchable and flexible source of energy.
Of course, the energy transition will be difficult. But let’s be clear. The risks arising from the clean energy transition are nothing compared to what will happen if we do nothing!