The latest report from a United Nations panel on climate change says that attempts to reduce carbon emissions over the past decade have faltered, portending a dire future. According to scientists, countries need to cut their energy emissions by 40% to 70% by 2050, and by 100% by 2100, if the world is to avoid a number of apocalyptic scenarios brought on by man-made changes in climate. 

So-called greenhouse gases produced by human activity trap the sun's radiation and heat up the earth's surface, wreaking havoc on the environment. The combustion of fossil fuels, such as gas, fuel oil, and coal, contribute greatly to the problem. According to the UN, these processes have to be replaced with renewable sources of energy in the coming decades.

The obvious solution is to substitute these fossil fuels with solar power. While the technology to harness the sun's energy is perpetually being upgraded and refined, solar power is gradually becoming the most attractive choice for many consumers to power their homes, and not only for environmental reasons, but often for the lower costs solar energy is affording.

The corporate sector has also begun to see solar's advantages. IKEA has committed to becoming a zero-energy company 2020, and has allotted $2 billion for a number of renewable energy endeavors. It has already installed more than 550,000 solar panels. The company is additionally involved in wind energy, and has established a wind farm about a hundred miles south of Chicago and other wind projects in eight countries. In 2013, renewable energy sources accounted for close to 40% of IKEA's energy usage.

Aside from such moves by a few of the larger corporations, demand for solar power has been increasing significantly in the U.S. residential market. SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR), a U.S. firm headquartered in San Jose, California, has been leasing its solar-panel systems to over 20,000 U.S. customers. 

Demand for solar power around the world is also increasing rapidly. SunPower has offices in Europe, Australia, Africa and Asia to meet the growing cries for sun-generated energy. SunPower recently announced that it has begun selling megawatts of cell packages in inner Mongolia, and plans further moves to serve companies and consumers in China.It will have to contend, however, with the Chinese companies that currently serve the Chinese market, the leaders being Trina Solar (NYSE:TSL) and JinkoSolar (NYSE:JKS)

Solar companies are in their early stages of development, and it is unclear who will become the dominant player a few years from now. Currently, there seems to be plenty of growth ahead for a number of solar companies. SunPower is said to have an advantage in that its solar panels are smaller in size and convert energy efficiently, making them well suited for rooftop installations.  

Brean Capital recently initiated coverage on the company's shares and rated them as a buy. SunPower's stock currently has a forward price to earnings ratio of under 20, and its five-year growth rate in earnings per share looks to be over 30%, making the stock highly attractive to a longer-term investor who don't mind price volatility. This company is clearly worth considering when investing in the solar sector, and in clean energy generally.  

Spwr Residential New Home Community

A community of solar homes developed by SunPower. Source: Quiet Solar Energy

As the world shifts to solar power due to its increasingly cheaper cost or to ward off environmental catastrophe in the years ahead, a great investment opportunity has presented itself. While there certainly are strong competitors to SunPower, there is also a vast market for solar energy, and SunPower is poised to flourish.

Stephen O'Brien has purchased shares of SunPower for his daughter. The Motley Fool owns shares of SolarCity. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.