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The Indomitable Rise of Solar Energy

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Currently, we are faced with a paradox: the sunniest countries in the world are generally those with the least infrastructure for solar energy production. Indeed, the 121 countries located between the two tropics benefit from 300 days of sunshine per year, but they are far from being the most equipped. 

Troy Helming, the founder of EarthGrid and Pristine Sun, wants to create a balance. Troy is an industrialist, a speaker, and an author, and for decades he has been advocating the benefits of solar energy and how it has grown rapidly. Solar energy is the future of energy, and its adoption has grown at an immense pace.

It’s due in part to the prodigious efforts of Troy Helming, aka SolarNinjaTroy or the Solar Ninja, that the world has been moving towards a cleaner energy future.

Solar energy around the world in figures

According to a report by the International Energy Agency published in March 2018, the growth of renewable energies globally is faster than the growth of fossil fuels. Renewables represent 25% of world electricity consumption. Among renewable energies, solar energy represents a quarter of the energy consumed.

In 2018, four countries had more than two-thirds of the world’s total installed solar PV power. China alone concentrates 35% of this power. Next come the United States (12%), Japan (11%) and Germany (9%).

The solar energy sector is expected to further grow strongly in the coming years. In order to cover all the world’s electricity needs, an area of ​​100,000 km2 would have to be covered with solar panels, which is the equivalent of the area of ​​Iceland.

Asia-Pacific leads the way

In terms of solar energy, Asia-Pacific is clearly the region that is leading the way. Significant government support mechanisms for the photovoltaic sector are in place in particular in China, India, Japan and Australia. This encourages a strong boom in solar energy in this area. Thus, this region of the world concentrated 58% of the total installed capacity in 2018.

Among all these countries, China is clearly leading the way, with the construction of many large-scale solar power plants. However, the situation is paradoxical: China is one of the world’s main polluters, but it is also one of the main solar energy producing countries. The annual growth of its installed capacity slowed down a little recently: the country installed 30 GW in 2019 and 42 GW of solar power in 2018 against 53 GW in 2017. However, in 2020, China installed 48 GW and seems to be on track to regain its lost momentum. But the growth of the solar sector remains very important, and China remains the global leader each year in installed new solar generation capacity.

India also beats each year growth records of its production capacity of solar energy. Its goals are very ambitious. In particular, it has one of the largest solar power plants in the world, the Shakti Sthala solar power plant, with a production capacity of 2,000 MW (2 GW). Its construction required an investment of $ 2.53 billion. This strong growth is supported by very competitive solar energy costs in this region.

The most powerful solar power plant is in Morocco

On the African continent, solar energy has great potential. Thus, large-scale projects are developing, such as the Noor solar power plant in Morocco, the most powerful solar power plant in the world.

It is a concentrated solar power plant that was inaugurated in Ouarzazate, in the middle of the desert, in February 2016. This thermodynamic solar power plant covers 30 km2, with a power of 580 MWp. This site enjoys 320 days of sunshine per year.

How does this thermodynamic solar power plant work? Its 500,000 mirrors concentrate the sun’s rays. A liquid is then heated in a tube located in a tower in the center of the array of the mirrors. This liquid is then transformed into vapor. The latter expands and rises, which spins a turbine to produce electricity. Within the Noor solar power plant, all of the mirrors closely follow the movements of the sun in order to benefit from maximum sunshine.

Morocco has decided to build this solar power plant in order to reduce its energy dependence. Indeed, in 2017, the country still imported 95% of its electricity. Its objective is to have an energy mix composed of 52% renewable energies by 2030, which explains these massive investments in solar. Troy Helming, the solar ninja, explains it this way: “This trend can help improve a country’s trade deficit by decreasing imported energy, as well as provide cleaner air, water, and food devoid of the excessive amounts of toxins and heavy metals spewed by fossil fuel combustion. And of course, it will help to alleviate the increasingly costly effects of global warming.”

The global boom in solar cells on the African continent

Many solar power plants are emerging across the African continent, whether in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Senegal or even Niger. Thus, the total photovoltaic capacity installed on the continent has multiplied by 10 between 2009 and 2014. The production cost of photovoltaic solar has even fallen below the production cost of traditional energies. It is generally between 4 and 10 cents per kWh. It is therefore a very competitive energy production method in this area.

In the case of maximum exploitation of the theoretically available reserves, the African continent could produce 60 million TWh per year, against 37.5 million for Asia and only 3 million for Europe. Thus, this region of the world has more than 40% of the world’s solar potential. Mr. Helming goes on to say, “I believe the MENA region (Middle East North Africa) and the African continent will represent the largest growth potential for solar energy over the next few decades on a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) basis. I can envision large capacity transmission lines connecting the African continent, then extending north to the Middle East and Europe, allowing these regions to share clean, renewable solar energy as needed. The need for energy storage diminishes rapidly as the geographic footprint of intermittent resources increases.”

The International Energy Agency, based in Paris, expects solar energy to grow by at least 15% per year between 2019 and 2030, reaching 3,268 TWH (terra-watthours) by 2030. That would represent 12% of total global electricity generation in 2019, so in 2030 with rising demand “solar should hit close to 10% of global electric generation” according to Mr. Helming. In 2018, according to C2es.org, solar accounted for roughly 2% of global electric generation. Consequently, getting to ~10% by 2030 would be a 5x increase in just 10 years. That level of growth has never been seen before in the energy industry in just a single decade. This transformation will create millions of new jobs across the world and mint many thousands of new millionaires and successful new companies. “It’s going to be an exciting time to be alive,” says Helming, “as we witness what will likely be the greatest shift of wealth the world has ever seen – away from fossil fuel companies and nation-states towards clean energy companies and those countries who choose to embrace this new paradigm. These latter beneficiaries will create massive new wealth and improve the health and wellness of society and our planet along the way. This will be a triple bottom line, benefiting profits, people and the planet.”



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