By 2042, photovoltaic power generation will reach 100,000 TWh per year

The International Solar Energy Society (ISES) recently discussed the dominant position of photovoltaic systems and wind power facilities in the construction of power generation facilities. In a report, the International Solar Energy Society (ISES) clearly pointed out that the global energy structure is undergoing an unprecedented transformation. The newly installed capacity of photovoltaic systems and wind power facilities in 2023 has accounted for 80% of the world’s total newly installed capacity. With the continuous increase in installed capacity, the global annual power generation has also shown a strong growth trend.

In the past decade, global photovoltaic power generation has surged ninefold to 1,500 TWh per year, while wind power generation has tripled to 2,300 TWh per year (Figure 1). This growth trend corresponds to a compound annual growth rate of 22% and 11%, respectively, far exceeding other traditional energy sources. In contrast, the annual growth rate of hydropower, nuclear power and coal-fired power generation is only about 1%, while the annual growth rate of natural gas power generation is 3%.

It is worth mentioning that the annual growth rate of photovoltaic power generation is as high as 22%, which means that its power generation will double every three years. At this growth rate, it is expected that by 2042, photovoltaic power generation will jump to 100,000 TWh per year, which is enough to support the global economy to achieve full decarbonization.

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Figure 1 Annual power generation of various clean energy facilities around the world (2013-2023)

Research shows that the global average capacity factor of nuclear power is 74%, followed by coal power generation (50% to 70%), combined cycle natural gas power generation facilities (40% to 60%), wind power facilities (30% to 60%), large hydropower facilities (30% to 50%) and photovoltaic systems (12% to 25%).

Despite relatively low capacity factors, electricity generation from PV systems is expected to surpass nuclear power in 2026, wind power in 2027, hydropower in 2028, natural gas in 2030, and coal in 2032.

Photovoltaic systems and wind power facilities dominate power generation construction, while construction of other power generation facilities is small and stagnant. Coal-fired power plants, natural gas power plants and nuclear power facilities are being retired faster than new construction, and most are expected to be retired by the middle of this century.

With the exception of Australia, the leading countries in terms of per capita photovoltaic and wind power generation are all European countries (Figure 2). Figure 2 also shows the per capita power generation of hydropower facilities and nuclear power facilities around the world. Currently, photovoltaic and wind power generation in major countries around the world is four times the global hydropower and nuclear power generation.

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Figure 2 Global per capita photovoltaic and wind power generation

Australia is one of the world’s clean energy pioneers because, unlike Europe, the country cannot share electricity across borders to mitigate the impact of variable weather and electricity demand. The success of Australia’s clean energy industry shows that change can happen quickly with good policies. Between 2020 and 2030, fossil fuels will fall from 75% to 18% of Australia’s energy mix, while photovoltaic and wind power will rise from 19% to 75%.

Brazil and Chile are middle-income countries and pioneers in the clean energy industry. The total power generation of hydropower, wind power and photovoltaic power accounts for about 81% and 60% of the energy structure of these two countries respectively. The motivation for these countries to develop clean energy comes from the desire to reduce electricity prices and carbon emissions. Due to sufficient funds for energy storage, transmission and demand management, there is little concern about the stability of the power grid operation.

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