Solar PV—both silicon-based and thin film—converts sunlight directly into electricity. The growth in solar cell production climbed from an annual expansion of 38 percent in 2006 to an off-the-chart 89 percent in 2008, before settling back to 51 percent in 2009. At the end of 2009, there were 23,000 megawatts of PV installations worldwide, which when operating at peak power could match the output of 23 nuclear power plants. Germany, with an installed PV power generating capacity of almost 10,000 megawatts, is far and away the world leader in installations.
On the manufacturing front, the early leaders—the United States, Japan, and Germany—have been overtaken by China, which produces more than twice as many solar cells annually as Japan. World PV production has roughly doubled every two years since 2001 and exceeded 20,000 megawatts in 2010.
Historically, photovoltaic installations were small-scale—mostly residential rooftop installations. Now that is changing as utility-scale PV projects are being launched in several countries. The United States, for example, has under construction and development some 77 utility-scale projects, adding up to 13,200 megawatts of generating capacity. Morocco is now planning five large solar-generating projects, either photovoltaic or solar thermal or both, each ranging from 100 to 500 megawatts.
More and more countries, states, and provinces are setting solar installation goals. Italy’s solar industry group is projecting 15,000 megawatts of installed capacity by 2020. Japan is planning 28,000 megawatts by 2020. The state of California has set a goal of 3,000 megawatts by 2017. Solar-rich Saudi Arabia recently announced that it plans to shift from oil to solar energy to power new desalination plants that supply the country’s residential water. It currently uses 1.5 million barrels of oil per day to operate some 30 desalting plants. More >>>