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Doubling global renewable energy: More opportunities for utility solar leadership

My reading on my Wednesday morning commute included the Executive Summary of a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency — IRENA — which I now intend to dig into more thoroughly on subsequent rides to and from work.

Released June 5, “REmap 2030: A Renewable Energy Roadmap” sets out an ambitious, but pragmatic vision for doubling the world’s renewable energy use by 2030, based on a close study of renewable development in 26 countries, including the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The report starts from the 18 percent renewables being used in the world today, most of which is biomass. If we go on developing renewables at our current pace, the report, says, we’ll be at 21 percent by 2030, even though we could double our use with technologies available today, coupled with energy efficiency and improved energy access.

The report lays out an array of options, recognizing that international adoption of renewables, as in the U.S., is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. But it says plainly, inaction or simply reacting to the coming challenges will not be enough.

“Governments underestimate the change that is coming. Solar photovoltaics (PV) is a good example: total governmental projections yield less than 500 gigawatt-electric (GW) of solar PV in 2030, whereas REmap 2030 demonstrates that a combination of current market trends coupled with enabling policies can result in 1,250 GW.

“Markets and policy makers both play crucial roles. Markets provide affordable solutions, but a sustainable future requires policy guidelines. Policies must enable investments and stimulate market growth and transformation . . . Market forces play a key role in finding efficient solutions and scaling best practices.”

The opportunities for utilities, especially in the U.S., to be key stakeholders and play a leading role in this process become even more obvious in some of the report’s initial recommendations.

— Ensuring the smooth integration of renewables into existing infrastructure will require the strengthening of existing and the construction of enabling networks, including transmission grids, interconnectors and electric vehicle charging stations.

— Creating and managing knowledge of technology options and their deployment will also be critical, including:

Building a strong, publicly accessible knowledge base on renewable energy technology costs, potential and options

Expanding project development knowledge for bankable project proposals

Collecting and reporting best-practice information on technology and policies

  • All this, the report concludes, will call for intensified sharing of experiences and best policy and planning practices for renewable energy.


To varying extents, U.S. utilities are already heading down the pathways REmap 2030 sets out as the way forward — as events such as the Solar Electric Power Association’s recent Utility Solar Conference and upcoming PV America amply document.

Utilities will continue to look for innovative, cost-effective ways to stand up increasing amounts of solar and other renewables and create replicable models that will allow others to set and reach still more ambitious goals.