A new study The momentum of the solar energy transition” by Nijsse et al. (2023) provides evidence that solar photovoltaic energy will become the dominant global source of electricity by 2050. The transition to solar PV dominance in the electricity sector will have major implications for electric vehicles (EVs) and transportation in general. Electric vehicles run on electricity, so the growth of solar power will shape the future of electric vehicles. This report analyzes the main ways in which the widespread adoption of solar power will affect electric vehicles and transportation, based on the findings of Nijsse et al. (2023).
Solar Energy Growth Trends.
Nijsse et al. (2023) use an integrated assessment model to project global electricity generation to 2050. The model incorporates historical capacity, cost, and growth rate data to project the future diffusion of 24 energy technologies. The results indicate that in most scenarios, even in the absence of new climate policies, solar PV will dominate global electricity generation by around 2050. This is driven by continued rapid cost reductions due to technological advances, making solar power cheaper than all alternative technologies in most regions of the world by 2030.
The share of solar power in global electricity generation is projected to increase from 2% in 2020 to 56% by 2050 in the Nijsse et al. (2023) baseline scenario. Solar power is projected to overtake wind power and grow exponentially, with its market share increasing by 25% per year. This transition appears inevitable in large markets such as China and more gradual in developing regions such as Africa. Overall, the analysis provides quantitative evidence that the tipping point for solar’s dominance in the electricity sector has likely passed.
Impact on electric vehicles.
The projected growth of solar power will have a significant impact on electric vehicle adoption and utilization in several ways:
Cost Reduction – The continued decline in the cost of solar electricity due to economies of scale will reduce the cost of charging electric vehicles. The cheapness of solar power will increase the value of EVs over internal combustion engine vehicles.
Distributed charging – solar panels on the roofs of homes, offices, and public charging stations will enable more distributed charging of EVs. This distributed solar charging model can reduce the load on the power grid compared to centralized charging stations.
Grid Stability – High adoption of electric vehicles coupled with increasing solar penetration creates grid management challenges. Smart charging and integration of vehicles into the grid can provide demand response to balance supply and demand.
New load patterns – Solar generation peaks at midday, while EV charging demand can peak in the evenings when drivers return home. This mismatch calls for solutions such as workplace charging during daylight hours, time-of-use pricing, and managed charging.
Integration with renewable energy – Electric vehicles provide energy storage capacity that can help integrate a high proportion of solar into the grid, absorbing excess generation during solar peaks.
Regional differences – Solar energy potential varies by geographic location, so growth in some sunny regions may accelerate EV use, while others may require the use of other clean energy sources, such as wind.
These factors highlight the interconnected nature of the transition to solar and electric vehicles. Realizing the benefits while addressing the challenges requires policy and market innovations to align solar supply and electric vehicle demand.
Decarbonization of transportation.
Beyond electric vehicles, the transition to solar energy can accelerate the decarbonization of the transport sector in both direct and indirect ways:
However, the pace of transport decarbonization also depends on overcoming non-value barriers such as infrastructure availability, consumer acceptance, political support and supply chain readiness. Integration of transportation and electricity planning will be key.
The impending transition to solar energy, as discussed in Nijsse et al. (2023), will have a profound impact on the decarbonization of electric vehicles and the transport sector as a whole. Planning ahead for integration challenges and leveraging synergies can secure the future of solar-powered clean transportation. This will require holistic thinking and policy making that integrates the energy and transportation sectors.
Daniel Davenport is an Atlanta-based automotive industry expert specializing in software-defined vehicles, connected mobility ecosystems, and smart manufacturing. With nearly three decades of experience, he is currently a Hybrid Network and Cloud Solutions Specialist at NTT and is an AWS Certified Cloud Specialist.