MIT Energy Initiative

The Future of Solar Energy

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.

Study Participants

Carlos Batlle Visiting Scholar, MIT Energy Initiative; Associate Professor, Institute for Research in Technology Comillas Pontifical University
Patrick Brown PhD Candidate Department of Physics, MIT
Robert jaffe Morningstar Professor of Science Department of Physics, MIT
Joel jean PhD Candidate Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT
Raanan Miller Associate Director, MIT Energy Initiative; Executive Director, Solar Energy Study
Jose Ignacio Perez-Arriaga Professor, Institute for Research in Technology Comillas Pontifical University; Visiting Professor, Engineering Systems Division, MIT
Navid Seifkar Research Engineer MIT Energy Initiative
Robert Stoner Robert Stoner Deputy Director for Science and Technology

MIT Energy Initiative

Claudio Vergara Postdoctoral Associate MIT Energy Initiative

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

Students and Research Assistants

Carter Atlamazoglou
Kevin Berkemeyer
Riley Brandt
Arjun Gupta
Anisa McCree
Richard O'Shea
Pierre Primard
Jennifer Resvick
Jason Whittaker