Next solar expansion drive needs to hit higher potential markets: Maguire

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LITTLETON – Solar power has surpassed wind power in terms of global capacity growth over the past five years, seeing a more than 200% increase in global electricity generation from 2016 to 2021, compared to a 93.5% increase in wind power over the same period.

But more than two-thirds of solar capacity growth is coming from the top five solar producing countries, which have long been leaders in solar development.

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China, the United States, Japan, India and Germany together generated 67.4% of all solar power in 2021 and have been among the top developers of solar power for decades.

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The problem is that three of these countries are not even in the top 100 most suitable solar locations, measured by the potential of photovoltaics or the amount of sunlight available to generate solar electricity.

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That means most of the world’s solar production comes from countries that aren’t as well-suited to the technology, and other locations could be far better suited for power producers looking to harness the sun’s full potential.

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According to the World Bank’s Global Solar Atlas, which provides a harmonized view of the amount of solar energy available for each country, the areas with the greatest potential for solar power generation, thanks to year-round solar conditions, are mainly in Africa and the Middle East.

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In contrast, an overwhelming majority of existing solar power generation capacity is in countries that experience much more sporadic sunshine in winter due to cloudier conditions and reduced daylight hours.

This discrepancy between where solar is actually being developed and the more appropriate but underdeveloped potential sites elsewhere offers development agencies and power producers an opportunity to help non-emissive solar dig deeper into energy systems as global pressure mounts to limit collective emissions .

Many countries with high photovoltaic potential not only offer abundant sunshine, but are also home to fast-growing economies that cause fast-growing pollution.

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Take Egypt as an example, which ranks fourth on the scale of photovoltaic potential and 30th in terms of global solar power capacity.

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The country’s economy is projected to grow by over 5% by 2022 and its 110 million people are striving for greater mobility and opportunity in line with the usual development trajectories charted across the region.

Between 2016 and 2021, the country expanded renewable energy production by nearly 300% but still relies on fossil fuels for nearly 90% of its electricity.

With this heavy reliance on fossil fuels comes a significant carbon footprint which, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, totaled 267.1 million tonnes of CO2 in 2021, the second highest in Africa after South Africa.

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If the country’s emissions trajectory stays the same over the next decade as it has been since 2010, Egypt’s total CO2 emissions will surpass 300 million tons by 2030.

But if Egypt’s energy sector can instead maximize the country’s solar potential, then the country could well become a future solar leader that can show how favorable solar conditions coupled with supportive policy frameworks can accelerate decarbonization efforts without undermining economic growth.

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Several other North African nations share a similar growth potential profile to Egypt in terms of sunshine availability and fast-growing economies, including Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

Countries across the Middle East, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Oman, also have very good photovoltaic readiness and potentially deeper government pockets to help transition the national energy system.

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But Egypt may be able to capitalize on the opportunity even better as the country is set to host the upcoming COP27 United Nations climate change conference in November at a hotel that has built a solar panel on its roof to show the country’s commitment to using purifiers demonstrate energy.

Of course, the one-megawatt system at Hotel Sharm el-Sheikh is negligible compared to the nearly 66 terawatt-hours of solar power that were connected to the grid by China alone between 2020 and 2021.

But if it helps redraw the map of significant solar assets, it will be a welcome development in the global solar discourse and help direct much-needed development resources to sites that could demonstrate solar’s potential even better than current leaders elsewhere .

(Reporting by Gavin Maguire; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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