"Solar photovoltaic electricity has the potential to supply energy to more than four billion people by 2030 if adequate policy measures are put in place today," said Ernesto Macias, EPIA president, as the report was presented at the 23rd European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference in Valencia, Spain.

By the end of 2007 more than 9,200 MW of solar photovoltaic systems had been installed around the world. But by 2030 Solar Generation estimates that more than 1800 GW of photovoltaic systems will have been installed worldwide, creating more than 2600 TWh of the electricity produced per year – or 14% of global electricity demand. The power would be enough to supply more than 1.3 billion people in developed areas and at least 3 billion people in remote rural areas who currently have no access to mains electricity.

"Solar electricity could help cut up to 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, equivalent to the emissions of 450 coal-fired power plants," said Sven Teske of Greenpeace International, a co-author of the study. "Tackling climate change requires a revolution in the way we produce and use energy – solar is a major part of this solution."

The industry offers more than climate benefits – the expansion of solar energy will create jobs. Almost 120,000 people are currently employed in the solar energy sector and most of the roles – involving the installation, maintenance and sale of photovoltaic systems – are created locally and boost local economies. In 2020, more than 2 million people are expected to be working in solar energy, with that figure rising to almost 10 million by 2030.

The solar electricity industry is currently worth more than €s 13 billion per year; installations of photovoltaic cells and modules worldwide have been growing at an average annual rate of more than 25% since 1998.

The majority of installed PV systems currently benefit from well-designed grant support, in particular the feed-in tariff mechanism, say the report’s authors. This provides fair remuneration to the investor, and rewards the effort made in investing in a clean energy source. They believe that solar energy should become cost-competitive with conventional energy by 2015 in southern European countries and by 2020 across most of Europe.

The future renewable energy sources European Union Directive is expected to reinforce the current legal framework and could facilitate the implementation of the feed-in tariff scheme throughout Europe. "The ball is now in the hands of European decision-makers who can take the opportunity this new Directive presents to show Europe’s leadership in the development of renewable energy sources," said Macias.

But there still remains a lot of work to be done. "One crucial step is to bring a far broader range of actors into the sector, particularly in the investment, finance, marketing and retail areas," says the report.