Solar power promises huge potential to generate both hundreds of gigawatts of low-carbon energy and hundreds of thousands of jobs over the coming decade.

Making that happen, however, will require the right key policies, according to a report prepared by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the European Photovoltaic Industries Association (EPIA).

Highlights of the report, unveiled at the climate change summit in Cancun, Mexico, include employment projections for the solar industry, with 683,000 jobs predicted in the US and 1,130,000 in the European Union by 2020, based on countries’ respective solar-energy targets. These are impressive figures as they only consider the solar power industry, thus demonstrating the significant potential of renewable energies over the coming decade.

One of the keys to ensuring these figures are met in the US is extending the highly-successful solar Treasury Grant Program (TGP), currently set to expire at the end of the year. The program’s end will reduce growth in the solar industry, as it has helped create 20,000 US jobs and build 1,100 projects in 42 states. Seeing as the US government is under pressure to create jobs for its citizens, it makes sense to extend the program. That would fulfill a public need while also encouraging a sustainable economy.

The SEIA/EPIA report also shows that combined world targets for solar electric capacity will reach 700 gigawatts and solar thermal capacity will reach 280 gigawatts (in thermal equivalent) by 2020. This is equivalent to a reduction of 570 megatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, which is like shutting down more than 100 coal-fired power plants.

“Government representatives in Cancun should advocate nations to leapfrog past conventional energy dependency to a clean and unlimited source that can also easily reach under-served populations in rural areas,” noted Aded El Gammal, Secretary General of the EPIA.

The key policies identified by the global solar industry for combating climate change include:

* Establishing a price on carbon to ensure a level playing field and factor externalities into the cost of fossil fuels
* Setting internationally agreed mid-term and long-term emissions reduction targets for all developed countries
* Ending the massive subsidies given to fossil fuel industries
* Ensuring that renewable energy targets set by developing countries qualify as Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs)
* Developing an international financing framework to encourage technology transfer and investment in solar projects worldwide

These are some excellent points that definitely need to be considered in Cancun. Although governments are implementing policies to encourage renewable energies and reduce carbon emissions (feed-in tariffs, for example, which are the focus of a coming report from Greenbang), it is outrageous that the fossil fuel industry should still be subsidised. The solar industry will be able to compete with fossil fuels as costs reach grid parity in the next 10 to 15 years. However, that could be sooner if the subsidies for fossil fuels are stopped.

We must also consider the fact that the US and EU are not the only emitters of greenhouse gases … although rapid growth is expected in these regions for the solar industry, how will less developed and growing countries fare in the coming decade? The current solar energy targets set by governments in the US and EU are ambitious and very rarely met, so the figures highlighted in the report are also ambitious. However, it’s critical to emphasise the potential of solar power to the politicians in Cancun, as a lot of them still need persuading on renewable energy, let alone which technologies should be adopted in the coming decade.