Solar energy development has accelerated a lot and we do not expect it to slow down because of its distinctive advantages: significant room for improvement in terms of efficiency and costs, at the end PV is more about electronics than electromechanical devices, that is why we saw massive improvements in efficiency and costs; on top of this solar PV is modular and scalable and reasonably easy to build. To add numbers to the concepts we can say that while PV technology efficiency increased, costs of PV modules have plummeted by ~ 90% in the last ten years, generation costs went down as well, more than 80% since 2010. Such reduction has been the crucial enabler for fast and massive solar PV deployment. This has been possible thanks to the virtuous circle of government support that fuelled demand for solar, such demand drove innovation, cost reduction and efficiency increase along the entire supply chain. Solar PV started as a European thing, domestic Chinese market had a huge impact as well and now Solar PV is a global phenomenon and competitive in many markets.
If we combine efficiency increase and cost decrease with energy transition, we understand that Solar PV will be growing in all sectors: distributed, utility scale and off-grid, turning it into the most important source of energy for electricity production worldwide. LCOE of a standard utility-scale fixed-axis PV will likely fall less than 25$/MWh in 2050 compared with a global benchmark of 50$/MWh as of today according to some energy expert analyst. In addition, there are production innovations coming down the pipeline and the main change will be the sizing of PV cells and modules. Most wafer makers are trialing larger and larger wafer up to 166 mm that will permit to slightly increase the performance of solar module (not with the same rate of about 2% of the last 5 years). The most promising technology that we think will deliver improvements in the next few years is the use of perovskites (a mineral that can be used to make solar cells) and in particular the tandem-junction cell will permit to reach higher efficiencies (higher than 30%) not reachable with the actual technologies.
The increasing renewables share and, consequently, the variability of its supply increases the demand for flexibility and resilience and better integration of Solar PV in electricity grids. Massive PV integration in the grid will rely on better power electronics and a greater use of low-cost digital technologies; we also see an important role for hybrid projects where we will combine different technologies such as Solar PV and Battery Storage to provide services to the grid.
The obvious answer is that Solar PV contributes to greenhouse gas emissions reduction and reduced dependency on fossil fuel sources. But the industry shall and can deliver much more, Solar PV, especially utility scale, is developed in the countryside and can provide synergy with the agricultural world on at least two dimensions: provide additional sources of revenues to landowners supporting their other activities and, when well designed, allow for some agricultural use within the PV project, the so called agrivoltaic.
Solar PV growth will stimulate employment in the European countries creating new jobs positions in new ‘green’ technologies, and this is not just about construction, operation and maintenance. It is a common mistake to think that Solar PV is a Chinese technology, there is plenty of European content in any Solar PV project, and we shall not abandon the idea that even some PV panel manufacturing can be localized in Europe.