The Future of Solar Energy An Interdisciplinary MIT Study
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The Future of Solar Energy An Interdisciplinary MIT Study


This study is the seventh in the MIT Energy Initiative’s “Future of” series, which aims to shed light on a range of complex and important issues involving energy and the environment. Previous studies in this series have focused on energy supply technologies that play important roles in electric power systems and on the electricity grid itself.

In contrast, solar energy, the focus of this study, accounts for only about 1% of electricity generation in the United States and globally. We believe a focus on solar technologies is nonetheless warranted because, as we discuss at several points in this study, the use of solar energy to generate electricity at very large scale is likely to be an essential component of any serious strategy to mitigate global climate change.

We anticipate that this report will be of value to decision makers of diverse interests and expertise in industry and government as they guide the continuing evolution of the solar industry. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the solar resource and its potential role in the future energy mix, and introduces the remainder of the study. Subsequent chapters discuss the two fundamental solar generation technologies, photovoltaic and concentrated solar (or solar thermal) power.

The economics of photovoltaic generation, the challenges of scaling up solar generation and integrating it into existing power systems, and changes that would improve the effi ciency of U.S. policies aimed at advancing solar technologies and increasing their deployment.

Appendices and related working papers document some of the analyses discussed in the chapters and provide more detailed information on photovoltaic and complementary\ technologies, and on the global photovoltaic supply chain. The MIT Future of Solar Energy Study gratefully acknowledges the sponsors of this study:

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, The Arunas A. and Pamela A. Chesonis Family Foundation, Duke Energy, Edison International, The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC, and Booz Allen Hamilton. In addition to providing financial support

A number of our sponsors gave us access to staff members who provided frequent and detailed information about technical and policy issues. We are very thankful for this cooperation. The study development was guided by an Advisory Committee whose members dedicated a significant amount of their time to participate in multiple meetings, comment on our preliminary analysis, findings, and recommendations, and make available experts from their own organizations to answer questions and contribute to the content of the report. 

We would especially like to acknowledge the efficient conduct of Advisory Committee meetings under the able and experienced direction of the Committee’s Chairman, Philip R. Sharp. In addition to all of the valuable contributions from this study’s sponsors, the Advisory Committee, and other members of their respective organizations, the research also benefited from the involvement of Joshua Linn and Gary DesGroseilliers, who served as Executive Directors for several years each in the initial and final stages of the project.

We particularly want to thank Ernest J. Moniz, who deftly led this study as its co-Chairman until called to government service as Secretary of Energy in May 2013, and Joseph P. Hezir who served as the study’s Executive Director until he joined Dr. Moniz at the Department of Energy in June 2013.

Neither Dr. Moniz nor Mr. Hezir had any involvement in any analysis or writing that occurred after they were asked to join the Administration, so they bear no responsibility for and do not necessarily agree with the study’s final conclusions and recommendations.

This study was initiated and performed within the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI). Professor Robert C. Armstrong has supported this study in his role as Director of MITEI and as an active participant in the study group. MITEI staff provided administrative and fi nancial management assistance to this project.

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