Infographic: Could the World Be 100 Percent Solar?

What is the global potential of solar energy? –

A field of solar energy collectors at sunsetPerhaps the only thing more unrealistic than the idea of a modern world powered 100 percent on solar energy is the idea that extracting every last bit of fossil energy is sustainable, good for the long-term economy or a habitable planet.

Building a new energy economy is fraught with many challenges. Many of them are technical – but these challenges can be overcome. With each passing year solar energy gets cheaper. more efficient and more widespread.  perhaps the most difficult challenge to overcome is not technical, but envisioning a new world.

I can’t say if a modern, energy-intensive society could run 100 percent on solar (it doesn’t have to anyway, other forms of renewable energy are available and growing as well).

What I can say is that a continued and accelerating reliance on fossil fuels and the determination to extract every last bit of it from the earth to power that world is how we can make 100 percent sure that one day it will end forever.

The following infographic outlines some key facts and figures about solar energy vs. fossil fuel.


Could The World Be 100% Solar? [Infographic] by the team at CashEuroNetUK, LLC

Image credit: Jason Drury, courtesy flickr

Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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  1. This article doesn’t address the issue of distribution, storage of energy (i.e. industrial scale grid batteries), matching electrical supply with demand, and weather. Until there’s a cost effective means for storing electricity throughout the grid (a big battery), a 100% renewable supply will not happen. The energy storage and baseline capacity issues must be solved first. There have been some developments on this front in the past 10 years, but still a long way from reality. The solar enthusiast (aka religious followers) must begin to take the engineering problems into consideration when throwing out all the same physics statistics when advocating for solar.
    Info graphic did touch on cost, but didn’t provide any solution to the fact that solar is still more than twice the cost per Kilowatt-hour of electricity vs. natural gas / coal generated electricity. Only exception to that is in Hawaii, California, and Massachusetts where the electrical rates are outrageous thanks to the governments in these states. Where electrical costs are above the national average, solar does begin to compete on costs, but these states can’t eliminate natural gas / coal fired plants because solar (or wind) can’t be relied upon to produce sufficient power as the electrical demand fluctuates throughout the day and the year. Again, 100% solar or wind is impossible without the ability to store it.

    • Yes, I have no argument that the ability to store energy generated from renewable sources is one of the biggest technical challenges facing a full-scale rollout of wind, solar or other renewable sources of energy. I think there is a problem when you equate “solar enthusiasts” with “religious followers.” People are well aware of the technical challenges and working hard to meet them. Using hyperbole like that serves nothing.

  2. I applaud the concept, but the info-graphic is heavily skewed toward thin film solar as the best solution, to the point of severe inaccuracies. For example, industrial scale silicon panels are no longer 15% efficient. Many manufacturers offer 18%-20% modules. And most thin film panels are not 19% on industrial scale, but only in the labs. If thin films are so much cheaper, easier, and better than silicon panels, why has thin film market share hovered around only 10-20% for the past 20+ years? First Solar is the only significant company in that space, and they use cadmium and tellurium. Billions of dollars were invested in CuInGaSe-based solar, only to have most of the companies go bankrupt due to difficulties in scale up of the manufacturing… again, much more difficult than silicon technologies. All of these elements are FAR more difficult to extract from the earth, and FAR more potentially harmful (as in the case of a house fire) than silicon. And to say “Silicon mining” is difficult and environmentally unfriendly is an out-right lie. Nobody mines silicon! Silicon is processes from silicon dioxide (aka sand). 27% of the earths crust is silicon, and only 0.000015% is cadmium and only 0.000000099% is tellurium.

    But in the final analysis, the question of whether the world can run on 100% solar, the answer is clearly no (in part due to the storage issue brought up by the previous commenter). But the good news, is that it does not have to run on 100% solar. With fourth generation nuclear power producing only 1% as much waste, and being much safer and less threatening, and with wind energy, biomass conversion to methane, and eventually fuel cells powered by solar-generated hydrogen, there would be plenty of ways to get all of our power without significantly adding to greenhouse gas emissions (where is that on your list of negative effects from fossil fuels??).

    • The information below is reproduced From Global Potential of Sustainable Biomass for Energy:

      Svetlana Ladanai Johan Vinterbäck

      we see that the world’s bioenergy potential is large enough to meet global energy demand in 2050. Unfortunately, this information is not part of the public consciousness. Supplying the public with important information about bioenergy can equip them to then put pressure on politicians to create a framework for increasing the speed with which bioenergy solutions are implemented. …

      The sustainability potential of global biomass for energy is widely recognized. For example, the annual global primary production of biomass is equivalent to the 4,500 EJ1 of solar energy captured each year. About 5% of this energy, or 225 EJ, should cover almost 50% of the world’s total primary energy demand at present. These 225 EJ are in line with other estimates which assume a sustainable annual bioenergy market of 270 EJ. However, the 50 EJ biomass contributed to global primary energy demand of 470 EJ in 2007, mainly in the form of traditional non-commercial biomass, is only 10% of the global primary energy demand. The potential for energy from biomass depends in part on land availability. Currently, the amount of land devoted to growing energy crops for biomass fuels is only 0.19% of the world’s total land area and only 0.5-1.7% of global agricultural land. Although the large potential of algae as a resource of biomass for energy is not taken into consideration in this report, there are results that demonstrate that algae can, in principle, be used as a renewable energy source.

      From all of these perspectives, the evidence gathered by the report leads to a simple conclusion: Biomass potential for energy production is promising. In most cases, shifting the energy mix from fossil fuels to renewables can now be done using existing technology. Investors in many cases have a reasonably short pay-back because of good availability of low- cost biomass fuels. The latter is of course dependant on local incentives, however. Overall, the future of bioenergy is also to a large extent determined by policy. Thus, an annual bioenergy supply covering global energy demand in 2050, superseding 1,000 EJ, should be possible with sufficient political support.


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