Solar power could provide a third of the world?s energy by 2060

A new report released by the International Energy Agency says solar energy could provide a third of global energy by 2060. But there’s a giant ‘if’ attached to that rosy projection: The world’s lawmakers must adopt a broad range of policies that include incentives for early deployment, subsidizing research and development and removing non-economic barriers such as grid access and permitting.

Most importantly, countries should move away from subsidizing certain solar power technologies and instead establish a carbon price, a strategy that will encourage a broader view of the energy transition, Paolo Frankl, the agency’s head of renewable energy told Bloomberg.

The IEA report builds off other analyses that have come before it and aims to provide an updated picture of solar technology trends and markets. According to the report, solar energy will be the available and make the most sense in warm and sunny countries — which is a rather obvious insight. But the population growth figures the IEA included drives home the point.

Sunnier countries, those zones around the equator, will house about 7 billion people or 80 percent of the world’s population by 2050 versus 2 billion folks who will live in cold and temperate countries that includes most of Europe, Russia and parts of China and the United States.

The report noted that in most markets solar power electricity is not yet able to compete without specific incentives. However, costs have dropped enough that solar thermal electricity and solar photovoltaic electricity are competitive against oil-fueled electricity generation in sunny countries, usually to cover demand peaks, and in many islands, the report said.

Not surprisingly, the report touted the good news story about photovoltaics and its deployment throughout the world. The author sees concentrating solar thermal electricity as complementing PV, not competing with it.

The IEA sees a future in solar thermal both in large utility-scale projects and even in smaller applications to support isolated or weak grids.