Solar Power to Rival Nuclear Energy by the End of This Year

New studies from separate groups report that solar power is continuously improving. While not on the same output as its rival nuclear energy, solar could become the primary source of electricity by 2050, according to one study.
Shelby Rogers
Solar panelsPixabay

Between solar power and wind power both surpassing more traditional forms of energy, the future of renewable resources continues to look brighter. A recent report from Green Tech Media suggests that solar power could rival nuclear power as early as the end of this year. 

The GTM study combines data from the Nuclear Energy Institute as well as other information from global studies regarding solar power. The Nuclear Energy Institute reports 391.5 gigawatts of nuclear plants around the world. Some researchers think that number could be on a slight decline given total investment numbers. GTM research estimates that by the end of 2017, there will be close to 390 gigawatts of solar PV plants across the globe. GTM said that the figure could be even larger given China's boom in solar energy. 

One major challenge, however, comes from the capacity difference between the two energy types. Nuclear energy is significantly beyond solar in terms of electricity generated. Nuclear puts out roughly 2.5 million gigawatt hours. Solar comes in at a very measly 375,000 by comparison. 

"The generation gap is significant," GTM wrote. "But a crossover is approaching."

Solar power to overtake other sources of electricity by 2050

The International Energy Agency put out research supporting that statement. The group estimated that it would be 2050 for solar power to overtake other sources of electricity. The studies predict photovoltaic systems could generate nearly 16 percent of the world's electricity. Solar thermal would come in at 11 percent. Those two technology types combined could save more than 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2050, according to those estimates.

"The rapid cost decrease of photovoltaic modules and systems in the last few years has opened new perspectives for using solar energy as a major source of electricity in the coming years and decades," said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven in a statement. "However, both technologies are very capital intensive: almost all expenditures are made upfront. Lowering the cost of capital is thus of primary importance for achieving the vision in these roadmaps."

Given that the world produces about 37 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide a year, any sort of decrease is better than no decrease. According to Van der Hoeven, governments investing in cheaper and more efficient technologies is crucial for the success of solar and any other renewable energy resource. 

"By contrast," Ms. Van der Hoeven said, "where there is a record of policy incoherence, confusing signals or stop-and-go policy cycles, investors end up paying more for their investment, consumers pay more for their energy, and some projects that are needed simply will not go ahead."


However, we're seeing investments growing beyond just governments putting funding into solar projects. Individuals are investing more now in solar energy alternatives than ever before. One of the biggest indicators of this comes from Tesla's solar roof panels. Those panels offer a relatively inexpensive alternative to traditional electricity. It allows homeowners to take control over their carbon footprint, and the panels are aesthetically pleasing. Elon Musk continues to make announcements regarding the company's Powerwall storage system for both solar and recent wind projects.