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Working Papers

Global Prospects for Utility-Scale Solar Power: Toward Spatially Explicit Modeling of Renewable Energy Systems - Working Paper 235

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In this paper, Kevin Ummel provides high-resolution estimates of the global potential and cost of solar power technologies while identifying deployment patterns that minimize the cost of greenhouse gas abatement. His findings are based on a global simulation of providing 2,000 TWh of solar power (about 7 percent of total consumption) in 2030, taking into account least-cost siting of facilities and transmission lines and the effect of diurnal variation on profitability and required subsidies. The American southwest, the Tibetan Plateau, the Sahel, and the Middle East are identified as major supply areas.

Consumption of solar power concentrates in the United States over the next decade, diversifies to Europe and India by the early 2020’s, and focuses in the second half of the decade in China, often relying long-distance, high-voltage transmission lines. Cost estimates suggest that deployment on this scale is likely to be competitive with other prominent greenhouse gas abatement options in the energy sector.

Further development of spatially explicit energy models could help guide infrastructure planning and financing strategies both nationally and globally, elucidating a range of important questions related to renewable energy policy.