Solar Energy Science Research Paper

This study considers only the two widely recognized classes of technologies for converting solar energy into electricity — photovoltaics (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP), sometimes called solar thermal) — in their current and plausible future forms. Because energy supply facilities typically last several decades, technologies in these classes will dominate solar-powered generation between now and 2050, and we do not attempt to look beyond that date. In contrast to some earlier Future of studies, we also present no forecasts — for two reasons. First, expanding the solar industry dramatically from its relatively tiny current scale may produce changes we do not pretend to be able to foresee today. Second, we recognize that future solar deployment will depend heavily on uncertain future market conditions and public policies — including but not limited to policies aimed at mitigating global climate change.

As in other studies in this series, our primary aim is to inform decision-makers in the developed world, particularly the United States. We concentrate on the use of grid-connected solar-powered generators to replace conventional sources of electricity. For the more than one billion people in the developing world who lack access to a reliable electric grid, the cost of small-scale PV generation is often outweighed by the very high value of access to electricity for lighting and charging mobile telephone and radio batteries. In addition, in some developing nations it may be economic to use solar generation to reduce reliance on imported oil, particularly if that oil must be moved by truck to remote generator sites. A companion working paper discusses both these valuable roles for solar energy in the developing world.

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Contributing Authors

Reja Amatya Research Scientist MIT Energy Initiative
Fikile Brushett Assistant Professor Department of Chemical Engineering, MIT
Andrew Campanella SDM Candidate, Engineering Systems Division, MIT
Goksin Kavlak PhD Candidate Engineering Systems Division, MIT
Jill Macko PhD Candidate Department of Materials Science and Engineering, MIT
Andrea Maurano Postdoctoral Associate Organic and Nanostructure Electronics Laboratory
James McNerney Postdoctoral Associate Engineering Systems Division, MIT
Timothy Osedach PhD Candidate Department of Applied Physics, Harvard
Pablo Rodilla Research Scientist Institute for Research in Technology Comillas Pontifical University
Amy Rose PhD Candidate Engineering Systems Division, MIT
Apurba Sakti Postdoctoral Associate Department of Chemical Engineering, MIT
Edward Steinfeld Visiting Professor Department of Political Science, MIT

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Solar Energy, the official journal of the International Solar Energy Society®, is devoted exclusively to the science and technology of solar energy applications.

The Society was founded in 1954 and is now incorporated as a non-profit educational and scientific institution. With participation encompassing 100 countries, ISES® serves as a centre for information on research and development in solar energy utilisation. Through its publications and its sponsorship of technical conferences, the Society provides a world forum for the active consideration of solar energy.

Solar Energy welcomes manuscripts presenting information not previously published in journals on any aspect of solar energy research, development, application, measurement or policy. The term "solar energy" in this context includes the indirect uses such as wind energy and biomass. Because of the international character of Solar Energy, articles that deal solely with the solar radiation or wind data base of a specific country are not normally considered suitable for Solar Energy. Submitted manuscripts may take the form of reports of original studies or reviews of significant prior work in a given area. All manuscripts are subject to reviews to assure accuracy, clarity, and long-term value.

Manuscripts of general interest not being suitable for Solar Energy should be submitted to Refocus, which publishes magazine-style feature articles concerning all aspects of renewable energy. Please e-mail David Hopwood, Editor for further details (d.hopwood@elsevier.co.uk) and visit http://www.re-focus.net.

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