Sun Could Be Our Main Energy Source by 2050: IEA

Steve Tatum/Flickr
By Matt Clinch | @mattclinch81

Solar power could trump alternatives like fossil fuels, wind, hydro and nuclear to be the world's largest source of electricity by 2050, according to a prominent energy watchdog.

The International Energy Agency, which is best known for its monthly oil updates, published two reports Monday detailing how greater use of solar energy could radically cut the need to use polluting carbon dioxide. The Paris-based agency said that if countries embraced solar energy, carbon dioxide emissions could be cut by more than 6 billion tons a year by 2050.

By the middle of the century, solar photovoltaic systems and solar thermal electricity combined could potentially have total capacity of 4,600 gigawatts, the IEA forecast. This compares to just 154 gigawatts in the early part of 2014.

Some countries already use a diverse mix of energy and have stringent goals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to negate the effects of climate change.

Earlier this month, government heads and business leaders attended a United Nations summit in New York on climate change, and discussed "bold new actions" to tackle the issue. Plus, the European Union aims to cut emissions by 2020 to 20 percent below levels seen in 1990.

In its reports, the IEA detailed how governments should set about reforming energy policy -- and some pitfalls to avoid. It called for "clear, credible and consistent" signals from policy makers on solar power, in order to lower deployment risks for investors and inspire confidence.

"Where there is a record of policy incoherence, confusing signals or stop-and-go policy cycles, investors end up paying more for their investment, consumers pays more for their energy, and some projects that are needed simply will not go ahead," IEA Executive Director Maria Van der Hoeven said in a press release about the reports on Monday.

Of the two forms of solar energy discussed by the IEA, solar photovoltaic systems are probably the most widely known, in the form of the solar panels that some homeowners install on their roofs. The could generate up to 16 percent of the world's electricity by 2050, according to the IEA, with China leading the way as the price of panels continues to fall.

Solar thermal electricity, meanwhile, works by focusing the sun's light energy and converting it into heat to create steam that drives a turbine. The could provide 11 percent of the world's energy by 2050, according to the IEA.

Warren Buffett is one high-profile investor that is betting big on solar technology, among other energy investments. Buffett said this June at the Edison Electric Institute annual conference that his company was ready to double its $15 billion commitment to wind and solar power.

15 Important Expenses That You Forgot to Plan For
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Sun Could Be Our Main Energy Source by 2050: IEA
Is your water bill due quarterly? Figure out how much you need to save each month to have enough to pay for the bill when it comes, and put that amount aside each month so you'll be prepared. Do the same for any bills due regularly but not monthly.
Bills you only have to pay once a year can be even harder to remember, so be sure to note things like property taxes, auto registration fees and insurance premiums and budget for them as well.
Annual subscriptions and memberships regularly trip up people's budgets. Be sure to set aside money each month for things like:
  • Newspaper and magazine subscriptions.
  • Gym memberships.
  • Warehouse club memberships.
  • Union dues.
  • Road service membership fees.
Other expenses don't happen on a regular basis, but you can still predict the need to pay for them over the course of the year. Chief among these are repair and maintenance expenses, with the biggest ones being car-related costs (oil changes, inspections, new brakes or tires, etc.) and home costs (leaky faucets, spring-time yard work, etc.).
Some home repairs go beyond the scope of "routine" and require a significant amount of money in reserve. These can include replacing your roof, installing new windows or doing a major home renovation. You can anticipate the need for most of these repairs before you have to make them, so be sure to start budgeting for them in advance.
You also need to repair and maintain your body, so factor in medical costs like annual physicals, eye exams and dental checkups, as well as co-pays and prescriptions costs if you have any ongoing conditions.
If you plan to purchase any large items in the foreseeable future, from appliances to a new car, make sure you're putting aside enough each month to pay for them in cash. It's always best to pay for big-ticket items upfront rather than finance them (unless you can get a fantastic discount by financing and can pay the balance in full before any interest kicks in).
From birthdays to holidays, there are plenty of special occasions each year to budget for. Make sure to include:
  • Birthday gifts.
  • Holiday gifts.
  • Anniversary gifts.
  • Party hosting costs.
  • Dinner costs if you take someone out to celebrate.
  • Wedding expenses (gifts, travel, hotel stays, etc.).
Your four-legged family members also need to be part of your budget. Pet care costs to consider include:
  • Food and treats.
  • Toys.
  • Vet bills and medications.
  • Grooming.
  • Boarding or pet sitting.
Do you take an annual vacation? Travel twice a year to visit family for the holidays? Set aside money each month for any travel-related costs such as airfare, hotels, meals, rental cars and souvenirs.
Whether you run a business or simply a household, there are certain expenses you may need to plan for in the business category. These can include:
  • Tax preparation fees and tax payments.
  • Conferences.
  • Trips.
  • Continuing education.
  • Dues for professional organizations.
Whether you give annually to a charity of your choice or like to have some money set aside for your friends' and family's fundraisers, make sure to allocate enough each month to cover these donations
A good budget allows for a little "free" spending money you can do with as you please. It can be $20 a month for fancy coffee at your favorite coffee shop or $100 a month to feed your favorite hobby. The amount doesn't matter so much as the fact that you're allowing yourself a little guilt-free fun to keep your budget from feeling too restrictive.
Depending on your lifestyle, your eating out and entertainment budget could be a little or a lot. Whether you prefer to have dinner out once a weekend or see a movie every few weeks, figure out how much you'd ideally like to have and then examine any budget categories you can tweak to make room for it. If you realize you need to cut back on your habits a little to save money, that's fine too-at least you're aware of it now so you can act accordingly.
Even if you're not a clothes horse, chances are there are certain items you'll need to purchase throughout the year. These can include:
  • Updated work clothes.
  • A new coat, hat and other accessories come winter.
  • A new bathing suit for the summer.
  • New shoes as yours wear out.
  • Back-to-school clothes for your kids.
Calculate your annual spending on all clothing and accessories and divide that amount by 12 to determine how much you should be putting aside each month.
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