MIT Says We Need A Massive Expansion of Solar Power


As the solar industry continues to skyrocket, and the cost of solar panels simultaneously falls, it’s no wonder that solar has become one of the most exciting answers to solving the question of what to do about energy in the future. But can we make enough solar in a lifetime to help offset the damage of fossil fuels? And what will take to do so? According to a report published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), “The Future of Solar Energy,” a “massive” international expansion of solar power may become necessary by the year 2050 to reduce the impact of fossil fuels on the climate.

What’s Needed to Change the Climate

The abundance of solar energy on practically every corner of the planet makes solar the cleanest energy source to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But in order to make a large enough difference to affect climate change, the solar power generated in the U.S. would need to increase to 400 gigawatts, a giant leap from today’s 20 gigawatts. Co-author of the report Robert Stoner estimates this could provide power to 80 million homes.

Those are exciting numbers to be sure, but are they out of line with what we can reasonably expect to produce? Unfortunately, unless the solar industry in the U.S. is supported and funded properly, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to reach those numbers by 2050. So how could the U.S. really make meaningful changes to achieve those goals?

Supporting the Solar Industry

How can the industry be efficiently and effectively supported? It starts with ending state renewable power generation standards for utilities, and subsidizing solar power generation directly. If Congress doesn’t renew federal solar subsidies, including the Solar Investment Tax Credit, expansion in the industry could definitely slow way down, bringing a trickling halt to area like solar job growth. Yet the report argues in favor of incentivizing business as much as it can. Tax credits towards something like building a solar farm, for example, would mean adding capacity, keeping or expanding jobs, and creating more solar power.

Moreover, solar power technology needs to improve in order to store all the extra solar energy. The same goes for improving power grid management. And abundant raw materials that would help keep solar panel prices low are also necessary.

Interestingly, the study does not go into detail on the cost effectiveness of rooftop solar. While it doesn’t outright dismiss the idea, the report recommends more states allow solar companies to own and operate solar panels.

So, to recap: drastic cuts from governmental support are likely to kill the momentum of solar energy, but government support must be redefined. Instead of tax credits for a direct subsidy, they must create direct incentives to generate as much solar power as possible. And while the solar industry may agree that it needs lots of help from Capitol Hill, it doesn’t necessarily agree with the tactics outlined in the report.

What do you think of MIT’s report? Do you have thoughts on how to increase solar power by 400 gigawatts over the next 35  years? Tell us in the comments!


Image Credit: Tomchen1989 via Wikimedia under a Creative Commons license

  • by Nadia Osman
  • |
  • May 12, 2015