Recent dramatic breakthroughs in photovoltaic (PV) production technology reorient which solar research and development (R&D) directions are now capable of high impact. We’ll show that this will principally be the storage of, and the synthesis of conventional fuels from, PV-generated electricity, complemented by smart controls in interfacing to energy infrastructures, and in-situ diagnostics and predictive capabilities for PV systems (with wind power playing a major but secondary role).
Around 1 terawatt (TW) of peak PV power has been installed worldwide, growing at about 0.2 TW/year. PV is now the most economical mode of electricity generation, bar none, surpassing wind, hydroelectric, natural gas, coal, biomass and nuclear. The levelized cost of PV electricity has dipped below €0.02/kWh, with PV arrays representing as little as 15% of total system cost. We’ll illuminate why this is relegating basically all solar thermal and solar photoelectrochemical technologies to the dustbin of technological history.
As ground transportation shifts to all-electric vehicles and space heating to high-efficiency heat pumps, the fraction of primary energy consumed as electricity will increase by hundreds of percent (relative), and with it, the need for the large-scale affordable storage and control of PV electricity will rise steeply. We’ll also show that for solar-generated conventional fuels, no major changes in fuel distribution and storage systems worldwide would be needed (a supply-side strategy). Fossil fuels will be largely eliminated from the global energy picture, the question then being not if it will occur, but when.