Rooftop solar panels could power the planet, according to new UCC study

Developing rooftop solar power in rural areas could allow people to be energy “prosumers”, producing and consuming what they need
Rooftop solar panels could power the planet, according to new UCC study

Rooftop solar panels could generate enough electricity to power the world, UCC research has found. File Picture: Larry Cummins

New research from UCC shows that rooftop solar power could potentially generate more than enough energy to power the planet.

An assessment by researchers at MaREI, the SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine in University College Cork (UCC), in collaboration with international partners, is the first of its kind to calculate how much solar energy could be generated if we took full advantage of the world’s rooftops.

Researchers used Google Earth and a novel machine-learning algorithm to identify the 0.2 million km2 of rooftop area around the world. This rooftop area was then analysed to quantify the global electricity generation potential of rooftop solar power.

It estimates that if we invested to make full use of the planet’s rooftops to harness solar energy, it could generate 27 petawatt-hour per year (PWh). Our total electricity use in all homes around the world in 2019 was 6 PWh, and the world’s total electricity consumption for 2019 was just under 23 PWh.

The authors suggest that the potential electricity generated by rooftop solar panels could exceed global yearly energy consumption. However, its future potential will depend on the development and cost of storage solutions for the generated energy.

The research team included lead author Siddharth Joshi, together with UCC colleagues Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir, Dr Paul Holloway and colleagues at Imperial College London, Columbia University, and Ahmedabad University.

Prof. Ó Gallachóir commented that this potential of 27 PWh from rooftop solar is “very significant”.

“These results are very timely in the context of the global climate change conference in the UK next month. Rooftop solar PV not only helps to reduce emissions but also to involve homeowners directly in the energy transition," he said.

The assessment found that areas with the greatest potential for electricity generation were Asia, North American and Europe, and the countries which could realise potential rooftop solar energy at the lowest cost were India and China.

Over half of the potential energy calculated could be generated with investment in low-density areas. Developing rooftop solar power in rural areas could allow people to be energy “prosumers”, producing and consuming what they need, and mitigate energy poverty in less developed and sparsely populated areas in a country where extensive grid integration may be costly or where competition for land may exist.

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