Solar Power 

Solar power is probably, along with wind power, the most  readily available solution to clean energy alternatives. Technology is advancing rapidly to make solar energy both efficient and low-cost. This page provides illustrations  of technological developments around the world and examples where solar is being used, looking at both Photovoltaic (PV) and Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) alternatives. 
Since 2010, the world has added more solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity than in the previous four decades. Total global capacity overtook 150GW in early 2014 link       

 September 2014: Germany leads top 10 countries using solar power - link

Located 150 million km from the sun, Earth receives just one-billionth of the sun’s colossal power output. But even that tiny fraction, some 120,000 trillion watts, showers Earth with more energy in one hour than all the energy consumed by humans in an entire year. link  
Latest news:

May 19 2016: Update on US SunShot initiative. The U.S. now has over 10 times more solar installed today compared to 2011 when the SunShot Initiative was first launched, and the overall costs of solar have dropped by 65%. The cost of installing solar energy in the United States is down more than 50% since the start of a federal support program. The Energy Department said it was about 70% on its way to reaching its goals. Solar power accounts for about 1% of the total electricity consumed in the United States, but represented 30% of the new power generation brought online last year. link   (More on SunShot in US news below)  

April 29 2016: Rooftop solar blocked in 10 high-potential states. States with some of the highest solar potential in the U.S. are hindering rooftop-solar development through poor policies, according to a recent report from the Center for Biological Diversity. The report said that 10 states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin) account for more than 35% of the total rooftop-solar potential in the U.S., but have less than 3% of total installed capacity. link

April 28 2016: International solar alliance to mobilize $1 trillion. During the historic signing of the Paris Climate Agreement at the UN, the first meeting of the International Solar Alliance also took place. When launched at the Paris summit, 120 countries signed onto the alliance declaring: “United by our objective to significantly augment solar power generation in our countries, we intend making joint efforts through innovative policies, projects, programmes, capacity building measures and financial instruments to mobilize more than 1000 Billion US Dollars of investments that are needed by 2030 for the massive deployment of affordable solar energy."  link  

  • Explaining difference between PV and CSP and Suncatcher
  • News from around the world
  • Other technical news
  • Costs of solar energy
  • The place of solar in the USA today
  • Feed-in tariffs and municipal lending
Every day the sun provides approximately 170,000 terawatt hours of energy -
about 2,850 times the energy required by people around the world.
  • In 40 minutes of daylight the sun releases upon the earth the amount of energy that is consumed by the entire population of the planet in one year.
  • All the energy stored in Earth's reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas is matched by the energy from just 20 days of sunshine.  
  • Currently we harness about 1% of this energy.

PV - CSP and SunCatcher

Photovoltaics are those solar panels placed on roofs etc. that so far dominate the solar market. They can be added on buildings anywhere to convert sunshine to electricity direct to the structure. Generally energy output is described in kilowatts produced, and their efficiency of converting the sun's energy to grid-ready electricity is between 8 and 15%. CSP however has an efficiency level of between 15 and 19% and becomes cost-effective when producing in large plants on megawatt scale. The SunCatcher is the most efficient at about 31%.  

CSP  -  Concentrating solar thermal power 

There are three major types of CSP systems:
Power Tower Systems use a large field of Sun-tracking mirrors known asheliostats to focus sunlight onto a central receiver at the top of a tower. The receiver contains a heat-transfer fluid which is heated by the concentrated sunlight. The heat-transfer fluid is used to create steam which drives a conventional turbine generator to produce electricity. CSP has one major advantage over PV: dispatchability. Current CSP plants can store thermal energy for up to 16 hours. 

Dish/Engine Systems use a parabolic dish to focus sunlight onto a receiver located at the focal point of the dish. The dish tracks the Sun in order to take full advantage of the available solar energy. The receiver contains a fluid or gas which is heated by he concentrated sunlight. The heated fluid is used to drive a Stirling engine to produce electricity.  
Parabolic Trough Systems use parabola-shaped reflectors to focus sunlight onto a tube that runs along the focal-line of the reflectors. A heat-transfer fluid inside the tube is heated and used to generate steam to drive a conventional turbine generator which then produces electricity. link

June 10 2015: CSP bright future.  Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems have seen explosive growth because of their stunning 99% price drop in the past quarter century. As a result, the other form of solar power, concentrating solar thermal power (CSP), is a small fraction of the solar market. But the International Energy Agency (IEA) says CSP has a very bright future too because it enables cheap, efficient storage, which allows CSP plants to provide electricity long after the sun has set. The  IEA suggests ’s 11% of global electricity will be generated by concentrating solar thermal power in 2050. The key attribute of CSP is that it generates primary energy in the form of heat, which can be stored 20 to 100 times more cheaply than electricity — and with far greater efficiency. Commercial projects have already demonstrated that CSP systems can store energy by heating oil or molten salt, which can retain the heat for hours. link

Solar-thermal power stations have several advantages over solar-photovoltaic projects. They are typically built on a much larger scale, and historically their costs have been much lower. According to New Energy Finance, about 12GW of concentrating solar-thermal power capacity is being planned worldwide - a vast amount, given that only about 500 megawatts (MW) of such capacity has been built to date. link

CSP uses reflective material to concentrate the sun’s rays to power steam turbines or engines. When combined with thermal storage - which enables a plant to produce power under cloud cover and after the sun has set - CSP can generate electricity on demand, not just when the sun is shining. Globally, solar resources are abundant. In the near term, investment will be driven in part by policy incentives. The most generous incentives at present are provided through Spain’s feed-in tariff. This model is being taken up in some developing countries and may merit consideration in the United States. The 2008 renewal of the U.S. Investment Tax Credit (ITC) extended the support for eight years, a much longer lifespan than previously offered. This is a step in the right direction; however, investors would benefit greatly from a more stable support regime. link       

February 2011: According to The Global Concentrated Solar Power Industry Report currently, there are 679MW of installed CSP capacity worldwide and more than 2000MW under construction. The USA is the market leader in terms of installed capacity with 63% market share, followed by Spain with 32% of operating capacity. link 

News from around the world 

January 2016: Solar PV continues to grow worldwide - no slowdown in sight for 2016. Global solar installations will reach 64.7GW in 2016 according to Mercom Capital Group, a clean energy communications and research firm based in Texas.(Around 40GW of solar power was installed in 2014.) The top 3 countries will be China, U.S., and Japan and they will account for about two thirds of the global market. link

June 2015: Around 40GW of solar power was installed in 2014. A record amount of solar power was added to the world’s grids in 2014, pushing total cumulative capacity to 100 times the level it was in 2000. There is now a total of 178GW to meet world electricity demand, prompting renewable energy associations to claim that a tipping point has been reached that will allow rapid acceleration of the technology. link

June 2014: China becomes world's largest PV market. According to the Global New Energy Development Report 2014, China has surpassed Germany as the world's largest PV market. The report provided a comprehensive and authoritative overview of the global renewable energy market. The global PV market saw 38.7GW  of new capacity installed in 2013, bringing the cumulative installed PV capacity to over 140GW, the report said. New PV installations in China saw the addition of 12GW in 2013, up 232% year on year, demonstrating that the global PV market has gradually shifted from Europe to Asia. link

January 2014: Middle-East looks at $50 billion to spend on solar power by 2020. The Middle East, spearheaded by the oil-rich Persian Gulf monarchies, could spend up to $50 billion on developing solar power over the next seven years, says the Middle East Solar Industry Association. The MESIA group estimates the region will install 12,000-15,000MW of solar power by 2020, with another 22,000-25,000GW from other renewable energy sources such as wind and hydro-power. link

February 2013: 100GW solar PV reached. Solar PV capacity reached 101GW in 2012, according to figures released today by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA). China led the way with 3.5GW of new PV capacity installed in 2012, followed by the United States (3.2GW) and Japan (2.5GW). Europe however still remained the leading solar PV producer, with 17GW of new PV installations across the region. Germany topped the chart, with 7.6GW, with Italy (3.3GW) and France (1.2GW) the two second largest markets. link

August 2013: Germany leads world - US 20th. In terms of total solar power capacity per capita, Germany crushes every other country. At the end of 2012, it had approximately 400MW of solar power capacity per million people, considerably more than #2 Italy at 267MW per million people, #3 Belgium at 254MW per million people,  #4 Czech Republic at 204MW per million, and #5 Greece at 143MW per million people. The US came it at #20 with about 25 MW per million people. link

June 2012: Japan poised to overtake Germany and Italy in solar supply.  According to London-based New Energy Finance, only China will exceed Japan in terms of solar capacity growth as it supplants Italy and Germany, which held the top two positions in 2010 and 2011 . link

Solar growing year by year.

January 2012: Solar sees 54% growth. In 2011 solar busted out all over the world, soaring 54% to 28 gigawatts (GW), driven by record installation in Germany and Italy, reports Bloomberg New Energy Finance. "The year was on the high side of even bullish estimates," says Jenny Chase of Bloomberg New Energy. The astounding growth came from crashing solar prices and a rush among developers to get as much solar installed before subsidy cuts in EU's biggest markets, Germany, Italy and the UK. Governments couldn't afford the above-market rates they offer under their feed-in laws for such a huge number of installations. link

November 2011: Global solar PV installations will reach 24 gigawatts (GW) in 2011, a rise of 24% from the previous year. Solar PV will rise just 3% in Europe, however, and Italy will displace Germany as the world's largest market for the first time, installing 6.8 GW. But slowing markets in Germany, the Czech Republic and other countries have dragged down Europe's world share, which will fall sharply from 82% in 2010 to 68% in 2011. While Europe is stagnating, the American and Asian markets are performing well and will generate 85% of the global growth in installations in 2011.  link

January 2011: Globally, new PV installations grew by 130% in 2010 to reach 17.5GW. For 2012 forecasts of 20.5GW would bring total installed capacity by the end of the year to 58GW  link  (This followed a 44% increase in 2009)

March 2010:Solar power could make up as much as 25% of the world’s total electricity production by 2050. Solar electricity could represent up to 20% to 25% of global electricity production by 2050. This is the finding of two new analyses by the International Energy Agency (IEA): the solar Photovoltaic (PV) and Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) roadmaps, launched this week in Spain, during the Mediterranean Solar Plan Conference hosted by the Spanish presidency of the EU. "The combination of solar photovoltaics and concentrating solar power offers considerable prospects for enhancing energy security while reducing energy-related CO2 emissions by almost six billion tons per year by 2050," said Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the IEA. Together, PV and CSP could generate 9000 Terawatt hours of power in 2050. Thanks to thermal storage, CSP can produce electricity around the clock and will become competitive with base load power by 2025 to 2030. link     

World expansion of solar.      
The world-wide installed capacity of solar photovoltaic power has escalated from 1.3 GW in the year 2001 to 20GW by 2009.
International demand for solar energy has been steadily growing by 20-25% a year for the past two decades. In the United States, solar energy growth is about 60% a year.        1000 MW = 1 GW 

Canada. First Solar.Inc and Enbridge Inc.have completed the expansion of the Sarnia Solar Project in Ontario, Canada from 20MW of capacity to 80MW making it the largest operating photovoltaic (PV) facility in the world to-date.  link 

June 2015:
Japan to invest $20 billion in Indian solar power. India’s plans to massively scale up solar power generation have got a big boost with a planned $20 billion investment by Japan’s SoftBank. With two times the sunshine and half the cost of construction of a solar park compared to Japan, India could become a world leader in solar energy.  link
June 2015)  India ups solar target five-fold. Prime Minister  Modi and the Indian Cabinet approved increasing the country’s solar target five times to a goal of reaching 100 gigawatts, up from 20 GW, by 2022.  The announcement said, “With this ambitious target, India will become one of the largest green energy producers in the world, surpassing several developed countries.” link
(September 2013) India plans largest solar plant in the world. Indian utilities plan to use 23,000 acres of land to build the largest solar power plant in the world, at 4 gigawatts of power, bringing prices and production of solar energy closer to competitiveness with coal. link

Morocco: (February 2016) Morocco begins phase one of world’s largest solar plant. The power station on the edge of the Saharan desert will be the size of the country’s capital city by the time it is finished in 2018, and provide electricity for 1.1 million people. Noor 1, the first section at the town of Ouarzazate, provides 160MW of the ultimate 580MW capacity, helping Morocco to save hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions per year - link   Morocco is embarking on the first of a series of mammoth solar plants that in total will raise renewable energy to 42% of its mix by 2020. The country plans to build five huge solar plants that all come online in 2020, as well as a string of wind farms along the coast.  When all five solar plants are finished the cost will be $9 billion for projects that will produce 2GW  of energy. link

Italy: (September 2012)  As solar surpasses wind supply in Italy, renewables now meet nearly 25% of Italian consumption.Now the world’s second largest solar market behind Germany. Two years ago, solar was little more than a romantic notion in Italy with about 1GW of capacity that had been installed over the previous four years. Suddenly the nation’s installed capacity shot up to a shade under 9 GW by the end of July 2011. Now a country that had implemented a target of 8 GW of solar by 2020 has rewritten its target to achieve 23 GW by 2016. link

Spain. With around 2,670 MW of annual installations in the year 2008 alone, Spanish Solar PV market will gradually grow and reach total capacity of 33.7GW by 2020. 
World's largest solar plant fires up in Spain.  link

South Africa. A 5GW solar park, supplying 10% of South Africa's current energy needs, is slated to be one of the world's biggest. link   (November 2014) South Africa. The 96MW Jasper solar farm, the continent’s biggest, located near Kimberley in South Africa, is now fully operational. .With a rated capacity of 96 megawatts, Jasper will produce about 180,000 megawatt-hours of clean energy annually for South African residents, enough to power up to 80,000 homes. Near the 75MW Lesedi project that came online May 2014, a 100MW concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) project called Redstone is also under construction. link

China. With cheap loans, electricity and labor, Chinese companies are pulling ahead on solar products. Backed by lavish government support, the Chinese are preparing to build plants to assemble their products in the United States to bypass protectionist legislation.  link   More on China's solar ambitions on China page.

Saudi Arabia:
(November 2012) Saudi Arabia is planning to invest $109 billion into solar energy, looking to develop a solar industry that can provide 1/3 of its electricity by 2032. Saudi Arabia’s first solar farm is expected to begin operations by 2015, and its first nuclear plant by 2020, according to an official at the agency developing the country’s renewable (and atomic) energy program. Its first solar power plant is expected to begin construction in early 2013, and will take up to 2 years to complete. link

Philippines (March 2016) The 63.3MW Calatagan Solar Farm in the Philippines, the biggest solar farm in Luzon, claims to be able to power the noontime energy needs of western Batangas. The Calatagan Solar Farm is one of the first of dozens of solar projects completed this year. Experts have said that the Philippines, because of its abundant sunlight, can become one of the world’s first 100% renewable energy-powered economies. Work will soon begin on projects in Mindanao and Luzon, aiming to complete 500 megawatts by 2017. link

UAE  (March 2013) UEA opens world’s largest CSP solar power plant. The 100MW Shams 1 is the world's largest concentrated solar power plant in operation said Sultan al-Jaber,  head of Abu Dhabi’s Masdar, which oversees the emirate's plan to generate 7% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. Masdar now produces 10% of the world's CSP energy. The company's energy portfolio represents 68% of renewable energy produced in the Gulf region, where clean energy  remains at an infancy stage. link  (BBC video)

The World Bank has partnered with Morocco and Egypt on two innovative projects that use a hybrid concentrated solar power (CSP) technology to reduce dependency on fossil fuels and cut greenhouse gas emissions. The projects aim  for reductions of 20,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually by the plant in Morocco and 40,000 tons of CO2 emissions in Egypt. link

Desertec - Sahara project could supply all of Europe's energy.


July 2013: Desertec in trouble perhaps. The Desertec Foundation statement pointed out that it rather than Dii is the “sole owner” of the “Desertec” brand name and concept, raising questions over Dii's ability to continue functioning without the foundation's support. It was unclear where the foundation’s decision to leave Dii will leave the consortium. link

November 2012: Desertec promise fades. The ambitious plan to provide Europe with 15% of its power needs runs into trouble.  link  Responding, initiative's director denies crisis, saying project advancing with new members joining. link



June 2009: Ambitious plan to power Europe with solar electricity from Africa.   Twenty blue chip German companies are pooling their resources with the aim of harnessing solar power in the deserts of North Africa and transporting the clean electricity to Europe. The businesses, which include some of the biggest names in European energy, finance and manufacturing, will form a consortium next month. If successful, the highly ambitious plan could see Europe fuelled by solar energy within a decade. According to the European Commission's Institute for Energy, if just 0.3% of the light falling on the Sahara and Middle Eastern deserts was captured, it could provide all of Europe's energy needs. link  
November 2009: The project moves a step closer to reality with the formation of a consortium of 12 companies to carry out the work. The Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII) aims to provide 15% of Europe's electricity by 2050 or earlier via power lines stretching across the desert and Mediterranean Sea and now believes they can deliver solar power as early as 2015. link

Europe expects to import its first solar-generated electricity from North Africa by 2015

January 2012: Desertec increases to 56 partners in 15 countries. Tunisia, the fourth country to sign an agreement, is to build 2 gigawatts of concentrating solar power (CSP) as part of the Magrid project. The grid development project plans to develop transmission cables under the Mediterranean Sea to export about 5 GW of energy to Europe as early as 2020. The mammoth TuNur Concentrating Solar Thermal plant, which will also have energy storage capacity to produce solar electricity at night, will be six times larger than any CSP plant built yet.  It will supply energy to about 750,000 homes in Europe. link           
October 2012: Siemans withdrawal from solar indicates long-term plans subject to market changes - link  

Desalination traditional (energy inefficient) or solar alternative. Desalination removes unwanted minerals from saltwater so it can be used for drinking or agriculture

February 2011: Saudi Arabia turns to solar for clean water.moves to solar power for a desalination plant that will likely make this some of the most expensive water in the world. Saudi Arabia currently consumes and produces 18% of the world's desalinated water. link

July 2015: Californian compant explores solar desalination. WaterFX’s technology has several advantages over traditional desalination plants, including “not contributing to climate change,” cleaning up local salty, toxic irrigation drainage, and being more cost-effective., probably one-fourth the cost of conventional desalination. link

Other technical news

August 2015: New ‘green’ antenna could double solar panel efficiency. Scientists from the University of Connecticut have developed a new type of antenna that could facilitate twice the amount of efficiency in existing solar panels which usually only capture 11 to 15% of the available energy. The antenna collects much more of the blue photons of the light spectrum than existing devices do. The key to the new technology is organic dye and while that process might sound complicated, it's actually not too difficult or expensive to do. What's more, the materials involved are compostable and kind to the environment if they need to be abandoned. link

June 2014: Producing cheaper, non-toxic solar cells. Solar power is typically thought to be among the cleanest of energy sources, but manufacturing solar cells is quite toxic. Currently, the most popular way to harness solar energy is through large, thick silicon plates that convert sunlight to electricity. But these iconic panels are expensive and inflexible. The cheaper alternative, thin film solar cells are unpopular for another reason: toxicity. To work effectively, the semiconductor cadmium telluride, which composes a layer of a popular kind of thin-film solar cell, must be treated with a chemical called cadmium chloride. But cadmium chloride is so toxic it cannot be leaked into the water supply without poisoning generations of fish. It is widely believed to be poisonous to humans as well.  A new study points to a safer and cheaper method, using an ingredient that is also used to make tofu. They found that magnesium chloride – a nontoxic compound derived from naturally occurring saltwater – worked just as well as its toxic counterpart. Furthermore, the natural compound costs only $0.001 per gram industrially, while the cadmium chloride costs $0.30 for the same amount.  link

April 2013: IBM collaboration aims to harness the energy of 2,000 suns. Scientists have announced a collaboration to develop an affordable photovoltaic system capable of concentrating solar radiation 2,000 times and converting 80% of the incoming radiation into useful energy. The system can also provide desalinated water and cool air in sunny, remote locations where they are often in short supply. link

March 2014: Massive mirrored dishes could make solar cheaper for all. So much sunlight hits the Earth each day that the world’s entire electricity needs could be met by harvesting only 2% of the solar energy in the Sahara Desert. Of course, using solar power as the world’s only energy source hasn’t been possible yet, in part because solar equipment is expensive to make (and getting the power out of the desert would be no easy feat, either). But researchers at IBM think they’re one step closer to making solar universally accessible with a low-cost system that can concentrate the sunlight by 2,000 times. The system uses a dish covered in mirrors to aim sunlight in a small area; as the sun moves throughout the day, the dish follows it to catch the most light. Other concentrated solar power systems do the same thing, but quirks of this design make it much more efficient: A typical system only converts around 20% of the incoming light to usable energy, while this one can convert 80%. link

November 2009: Technological revolution taking placeOld-fashioned silicon solar panels must now compete with companies such as Nanosolar, which in September began printing cheap solar cells on metal foil. Traditional silicon solar panel manufacturer are closing plants and switching to more modern technology in a business climate of inventory buildup and overcapacity for crystalline silicon solar panels and industry pricing below the cost of producing the familiar panels that are the basis for most solar installations in the U. S. link

June 2009: The incredible shrinking solar cell.The next generation of solar cells will be small – about the size of lint. The impact will be huge. Some of these cells could be embedded in windows without obscuring the view; engineers envisage incorporating larger ones into resins which could be used for a myriad of uses. link
November 2009: Solar power could be produced cheaply in specially designed optical fibres, say researchers. Optical fibres could conduct sunlight into a building's walls where the nanostructures would convert it to electricity. link

When the sun doesn't shine.  

April 2009: Solar power can be used to generate electricity nearly round-the-clock. Engineers can now use molten salts to store the heat from solar radiation many hours after the sun goes down and then release it at will to drive turbines. This is a significant advance in the decades-old technology of solar thermal power production, which has traditionally used mirrors to heat water or oil to generate electricity-producing steam. link   April 2010: Giant gravel batteries could make renewable energy more reliable. Wind and solar power are often criticised for being too intermittent, but Cambridge researchers could change that. link 

September 2010:Spray-on solar cells make windows generate electricity.  The technology, which is called the Solar Window, aims to provide solar energy to building facades by spraying an electricity-generating coating on to glass. During the demonstration, the researchers compared the cost of the SolarWindow technology to traditional rooftop solar systems saying that the SolarWindow technology provides up to three times more savings in electricity costs. link   

July 2009: Solar Breakthrough - alternative to silicon. Solar cells could be produced from materials other than silicon under a breakthrough that scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, say could dramatically reduce the price of solar technologies. The UCLA team has created its copper-indium-diselenide solar cell without going through the vacuum evaporation process. Instead, they dissolve their material into a liquid, apply it to a surface and bake it. In solution form, their solar absorber layer - the part made from the copper-indium-diselenide or CIGS materials and critical to the performance of the cell - can be easily painted or coated onto a surface. link

September 2009: Subterranean Solar. EarthSure, a renewable energy company and innovator in alternative energy sources, announced the company's latest patent-pending renewable energy invention. Subterranean Solar is a unique and innovative system of utilizing 'subterranean solar panels' to gather solar power. No unsightly above ground solar panels need to be used anymore. link

Small scale solar for everyday use. If you think of solar panels only as heavy boxes on rooftops, or spread in a field, you will be surprised to learn that solar panels can be rolled up and carried in a briefcase or backpack. link 

Costs of solar energy

February 2015: Solar is so cheap, the problem now is how to pay for it. Prices for panels are down more than 65% in five years, to less than 70 cents a watt. What's next? One word: financing. Building a solar generating facility, either a massive one in a desert or a tiny one on the roof, involves serious up-front costs. In extreme cases, the cost of capital can make power almost 50% more expensive than it would otherwise be, says a report released Tuesday by an independent German research group. These costs can even influence the ultimate price of electricity more than the amount of sunlight a region receives. But the industry is growing up in ways that are leading to both lower costs overall and faster installations. link

December 2013: CPV outlook – demand doubling – costs falling. The PV market in 2007 and early 2008 was shaped by heavy technology development, and a lot of uncertainty as companies struggled to become "bankable" and get financing, explained Karl Melkonyan, solar PV analyst for IHS out of Germany. Even then, though, there were leaders in PV manufacturing, and in regional deployments — and then in 2008 the industry saw a "breakthrough" as demand surged and prices plummeted, he explained. link

January 2015: Solar energy competitive and on the rise. As the cost of solar energy production continues to fall, the market is experiencing something of a boom. In many parts of the world, it has become cheaper to produce solar power than diesel oil, gas, coal or nuclear energy. Preliminary statistics suggest that solar energy generation rose by 45GW in 2014, and achieved an output akin to that of 11 large coal or nuclear power stations. But experts say the big boom is yet to come, and are predicting an increase of 50GW for 2015, and a continued upward trajectory in the ensuing years. By 2020,  4% of the world's energy demand could be met with solar power. link

March 2013: Unsubsidized solar reaches grid parity. Deutsche Bank released new analyses concluding that global solar market will become sustainable on its own terms by the end of 2014, no longer needing subsidies to continue performing. The German-based bank said that rooftop solar is looking especially robust, and sees strong demand in solar markets in India, China, Britain, Germany, India, and the United States. As a result, Deutsche Bank actually increased its forecast for solar demand in 2013 to 30 gigawatts — a 20% increase over 2012. link

May 2012: Solar - too cheap to meter. Once the claim (discredited) that nuclear power would be “too cheap to meter”, that probability now passes to solar power. Very soon, due to the 25GW of solar capacity Germany has already installed, hot summer's days will see the same effect: electricity too cheap to meter. link

July 2010: Crossover point reached - solar now more cost effective than nuclear -  NC Warn report (pdf)

July 2011: Roof panels additional energy benefits. Researchers find solar PV panels have the extra benefit of cooling buildings as well as providing a source of alternative energy. The research team also found that the solar panels had insulating benefits - enabling the building to retain heat during the nighttime. The team found that the cooling effect of the solar panels impacted the building's total energy costs and amounted to a 38% reduction in annual cooling load - the rate at which heat is removed from a conditioned space and the amount required to maintain a constant temperature. link

September 2009: Solar in desert regions face conflicts where water is a major factor. Lack of water availability means less efficiency and higher costs. In California alone, plans are under way for 35 large-scale solar projects that, in bright sunshine, would generate 12,000 megawatts of electricity, equal to the output of about 10 nuclear power plants. link

Solar energy in the USA today

April 2016: Solar crosses threshold of one million homes in US. The US has 27GW of solar installed compared to just 2 GW in 2010, and best of all it has reached grid parity in 20 states. link  (May 2016) America now produces 27.2 Gigawatts of solar energy: What does that mean? link

SunShot Initiative - The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) SunShot Initiative will reduce the total costs of solar energy systems by about 75% before the end of the decade. This major national effort to make solar energy technologies cost competitive with other forms of energy, without subsidies, will leverage the combined technical expertise of research laboratories, academic institutions, and industry across the country. link

March 2016: Blowout year for solar in USA. In 2016 the booming solar sector will add more new electricity-generating capacity than any other, including natural gas and wind. US Energy Information Administration reports that planned installations for 2016 include 9.5GW of utility-scale solar, followed by 8GW natural gas and 6.8GW of wind. This suggests solar could truly blow out the competition, because the EIA numbers are only for large or utility-scale solar arrays or farms and do not include fast-growing rooftop solar, which will also surely add several additional gigawatts of capacity in 2016. link

January 2016: Solar job boom in U.S. The U.S. solar power industry continued its hiring spree in 2015, growing nearly 12 times faster than overall U.S. employment. The solar industry has seen 123% growth in employment since 2010, adding 115,000 jobs in that time. Last year, industry employment totaled 208,859, with 35,000 new jobs added in 2015, up from about 31,000 in 2014. Most of the employment growth in the solar industry is in solar panel installation, which covers about 80 percent of all the jobs in the industry. link

July 2015: US solar production underestimated by 50%. In the first quarter of 2015, renewable energy provided 14.6% of electricity in the US, a level the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) forecast for 2040. In California, EIA announced utility scale solar provides 5% of the state’s electricity but left out the other half - rooftop solar, because EIA doesn't count distributed solar, of which there is now 9.2 gigawatts on 700,000 rooftops - about 45% of US solar capacity, according to U.S. Solar Market Insight. The EIA has been taken to task over the past year or so for underestimating the amount of renewable energy generally in the US. link

February 2015: One of the largest solar energy farms in the world has opened in Southern California's desert. The farm provides enough energy to power 160,000 average homes and displaces 300,000 tons of CO2 per year – the equivalent of taking 60,000 cars off the road. This is a part of California’s ambitious plan for 50% of the state's electricity to be generated by renewable resources over the next 15 years. link

September 2013: Utilities divided on rooftop solar in US. Today’s solar industry is puny – it supplies less than 1% of the electricity in the U.S. – but its advocates say that solar is, at long last, ready to move from the fringe of the energy economy to the mainstream. Photovoltaic panel prices are falling. Low-cost financing for installing rooftop solar is available. Federal and state government incentives remain generous. Yet opposition from regulated utilities, which burn fossil fuels to produce most of their electricity, could stop a solar boom before it gets started. Several utilities have asked their state regulators to reduce incentives or impose charges on customers who install rooftop solar; so far, at least, they aren’t making much headway.  But other utility companies are adopting a different strategy – they are joining forces with solar interests. “The industry is divided on how to deal with the opportunity – or threat,” says Nat Kraemer, Clean Power Finance’s founder and CEO. “Some utilities are saying, how I make money off distributed solar, as opposed to how do I fight distributed solar.”  link 

March 2015: U.S. installs 6.2GW solar PV in 2014 link
March 2014: Spectacular growth in solar supply in 2013. . link
January 2014: Explosive growth for California’s solar firms.  link
December 2013: US passes Germany on solar installations. link
July 2013: USA becomes 4th nation to install 10GW solar link

  The top  states in the USA in 2013   

Cumulative capacity insatlled: 1. California (5660MW)  2. Arizona (1822MW)  3. New Jersey (1211MW)  4. North Carolina (557MW 5. Nevada (450MW)  6. Massachusetts (440MW)  7. Hawaii (343MW)  8. Colorado (331MW)  9. New York (247MW). 10. New Mexico (235MW)    source  
How  50 US states compare with solar incentives - source

August 2014: Top Ten U.S. states for solar - link 

April  2011: In Oakland, a creative strategy for financing the city's solar roofs.   link
October 2009: US Army and Mojave Desert host 500MW solar power facility link  
A federal mandate requires the Army to reduce its energy consumption by 30% by 2015 and generate 25% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025

Feed in tariffs and municipal lending schemes

Feed-In tariffs - the political solution.
Beginning in Germany in 1991, spreading throughout the world, and now reaching the USA - starting in Gainesville, Florida - feed-in tarifs are revolutionizing how solar can be made affordable. The policy has allowed Germany not only to meet but to exceed its renewable energy goals. Initially, the aim was to get 12% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010. But it passed that milestone three years early, and has since reached the 15% mark, the most rapid growth seen in any country. By mid-century, Germany aims to increase that share to 50%. To date, at least eighteen of the European Union’s twenty-seven member states - along with some twenty-five countries, cities, and provinces elsewhere in the world - have adopted feed-in tariffs. link
Feed-in tariffs explained - link   

December 2015: Community solar option. More than three-quarters of households in the U.S. are unable to install a rooftop solar system on their own home. But for residents in at least 24 states, according to a June report, community solar gardens are emerging as an option. Power generated by community solar in the U.S. is predicted to more than double between 2015 and 2016, as more states, utilities and companies get on board. link

August 2013: California organization makes solar energy affordable to those unable to finance. California-based GRID Alternatives installs solar systems on low-income households in California, Colorado and soon, in New York and New Jersey. The organization has installed 3,500 solar systems in California so far, projects that according to the organization have saved the homeowners $80 million in energy costs and will result in the reduction of 250,000 tons of greenhouse gasses over their lifetimes. Once the solar system is installed, the homeowner pays GRID two cents for every kilowatt-hour that the solar panels produce, which typically results in energy bill savings of 80%.  link

June 2011: Google invests $280 million for home solar roofs. Search giant Google is investing $280 million in SolarCity, a company that leases out solar panels to home owners. The new fund will give SolarCity the capital it needs to create more reasonable financing options for home owners interested in planting solar panels on their roofs and don’t necessarily have the cash to buy panels outright. The leases for the residential solar panels can last upwards of 15 years. SolarCity is currently the number two provider of residential solar panels behind SunRun. SolarCity has a market share of around 14%of the leasable solar panel market, while SunRun has a market share of around 28%. A study done by the University of California at Berkeley found that home values increase with solar panels installed. link  [In 2005 27 megawatts of residential photovoltaic were installed in the U.S. and 58 MW by 2007. By 2010  264 MW were installed according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.]

Municipal lending schemes: With the high costs of installing solar power systems, municipal lending and low-interest financing such as bonds can contribute to energy reduction and down-the-road savings. In July 2009, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a new bill into law in California which gives cities the ability to provide low-interest solar-panel loans to homeowners. (California aims to get 20% of its energy from renewables by 2010.)  link  Colorado has already passed a version of the law, and the City of Boulder is on the verge of beginning a program.  A New York Times article (March 14, 2009) cites an example where a $ 62,000 solar system was installed and is repaid, with interest, over 20 years as part of property taxes.

February 2010: Texas utility (TXU Energy) with two million customers, is making it possible for homeowners in the Dallas area to lease or buy rooftop solar-power systems in one of the first programs of its kind. Texas’s abundant sunshine, high air-conditioning costs and huge subdivisions make the state a natural solar market. “It’ll start off small, but over next five years, Texas could become one of the largest solar markets in the country.  link


August 2011: Large solar arrays concern for desert animals.
Builders of large solar array farms in Israel's Negev region and in places like California's Mojave Desert have had ongoing problems with nature lovers, environmentalists, and Native American Tribes. A recent study conducted by Israel's Nature and Parks Authority indicates that building giant solar array farms could be fatal to thousands of wild animals that live in the fragile ecosystem of these desert regions. link

European Photovoltaic Industry Association.
To read more facts and figures from around the world go to SolarBuzz web site  

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