A new study assessing the future role of solar photovoltaics (PV) in the global electricity system suggests that the technology’s installed base could grow to between 1 760 GW and 2 500 GW by 2030 and identifies South Africa as among the most attractive markets for deployment.
Solar PV capacity currently stands at 227 GW globally, while South Africa has procured nearly 2.3 GW since 2011, following four Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme bid windows. The evaluation of additional projects, with a combined capacity of more than 500 MW, is currently under way.
Titled ‘Letting in the Light’, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) report states that the contribution of solar PV to global power generation could rise from 2% currently to between 8% and 13% in 2030.
In addition, 95% of that expansion is expected to be located in developing and emerging economies.
Besides South Africa, which could have as much as 25 GW, by 2030, Brazil, Chile, Israel, Jordan, Mexico, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are described as the most attractive markets for deployment.
However, the agency report also notes that the possible sevenfold to eightfold increase in capacity would require the average yearly additions to more than double, from 47 GW in 2015 to over 100 GW for the next 14 years.
Solar PV currently represents more than half of all investment in the renewable-energy sector, reaching $67-billion for rooftop solar, $92-billion for utility-scale systems and $267-million for offgrid applications in 2015.
The rise in the role of solar PV will be driven primarily, IRENA says, by cost reductions from the 5c/kWh to 10c/kWh (US cents) currently being achieved in Europe, China, India, South Africa and the US.
“In 2015, record low prices were set in the United Arab Emirates (5.84c/kWh), Peru (4.8c/kWh) and Mexico (4.8c/kWh). In May 2016, a solar PV auction in Dubai attracted a bid of 3c/kWh. These record lows indicate a continued trend and potential for further cost reduction.”
The report notes, though, that continued solar PV growth will require a transformation in the way electricity grids are managed and operated.
“Some impact on transmission infrastructure is inevitable,” IRENA notes, highlighting that locations with high solar irradiation may not correspond to places with electricity demand.
“For example, many project developers of utility-scale solar PV systems in South Africa are planning their projects in the sparsely populated region of the Northern Cape. Locating these projects closer to demand centres would increase levelised cost of electricity but reduce grid investments in transmission lines.”
Grid access has emerged as a key constraint for the deployment of new renewables projects in the Northern Cape, where the initial projects absorbed much of the available grid capacity in the Cape area.
However, the World Bank Group’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency recently announced the extension of €698.9-million in guarantees to Eskom to support transmission infrastructure investments, while The New Development Bank of the Brics grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa is also making funds available for grid strengthening.
IRENA’s renewable-energy roadmap shows that solar PV deployment will be global and spread across utility-scale applications and rooftop solar PV systems. In 2030, it expects more than 20 different countries to have over 15 GW of PV capacity installed, and at least some PV will be deployed in every country worldwide.