A recent news release from the International Energy Agency (iea.org) states that solar power could be the primary energy source for the world by mid-century.
Citing a continued decrease in costs, solar photovoltaic (pv) and solar thermal technologies will surpass our use of fossil fuels, nuclear, wind, and hydroelectricity. The article mentioned that we would be getting approximately 16% of our energy from solar pv and an additional 11% from solar thermal energy.
Proponents of solar energy, myself included, would state that this is a very realistic and not nearly aggressive enough of a goal. For example, scientists at Stanford University have developed a renewable energy plan called The Solutions Project that claims that the United States could be 100% green energy powered by 2050. I wrote about The Solutions Project a few months ago. If the high per-capita-energy-use seen in America can be converted to all renewable energy in 4 decades, surely the rest of the world can as well. Admittedly, a plan like the Solutions Project calls for a best case scenario in which massive changes start to happen really soon.
While we will need to be powered by all sources of renewable energy, solar power has some unique and advantageous qualities. The ieg.org article mentions a very useful characteristic of solar thermal power; its ability to deliver power after the sun has stopped shining. Molten salt is the common method that solar thermal power plants use to store solar energy. This complements solar pv, in that after the sun stops shining on solar panels, the energy stored at solar thermal plants can then be utilized.
Another promising fact about solar pv technology that can support the idea that it will dominate our energy landscape is its potential for adaptability is enormous. Anywhere there is not enough space for a solar thermal power plant, we can install solar panels. Simply covering our residences and commercial buildings with solar panels would provide us with much of our energy needs.
The simple fact is that solar energy is BY FAR the largest source of potential power that we have access to. It dwarfs everything else. This fact alone makes it the power source of the future. Now that it easily competes economically with other energy sources, it’s only a matter of time until we utilize it fully.