The face of solar is changing so rapidly its own industry can hardly keep up. The predictions on the growth of solar, even from within the industry, have been consistently lower than the real growth. Particularly in heavily populated areas of the world like China and India, they’re hitting that part of the growth curve where it becomes exponential growth.
In 2016 there were 50% more installations than in 2015. It was a record-breaking year fuelled by concerns in the US over the potential end of solar tax credits and China’s race to deal with their substantial pollution issues.
Early in 2017 many predicted significantly slower growth, but it now appears there will be somewhere in the range of 30% growth in demand from 2016 to 2017. Nearly half of that growth is China alone.
The growth in Europe for 2017 is likely to be in the 10% range with new installations amounting to approximately 7.5 Gigawatts. While Germany leads the way in solar, the U.K. consistently ranks third in Europe in installed solar capacity. The US has had an average annual growth rate of 68% in the last decade.
It’s a perfect storm. The cost of solar has dropped significantly, largely due to Chinese government support and investment in building more panels at a lower cost. In the United States, the cost has dropped 70% since 2010.
In Germany, the cost to install solar dropped to nearly 0.04€ this year. And in a few countries, like India and Mexico, the cost is down to $0.03 US per kWh. These forces fuel one another, and the growth and patterns are strikingly similar to other past emerging technologies like computers and cell phones.
The price drops fuel more installations which fuels more economy of scale and lower costs. A number of countries are also offering tax advantages stimulating even more growth.
Still, worldwide, the percentage of homes powered by solar is quite low. In the US and Europe, solar accounts for approximately 2% of all generated electricity. At the end of 2015, solar accounted for only 1% of global electricity. However, if solar installation growth continues on its current trajectory, those figures will significantly rise relatively quickly.
Climate science is not something to be ignored or denied any longer. We simply must all make an effort to curb emissions. There are a host of reasons people don’t want to put solar panels on their home. They may live in a flat or be renting a house. Perhaps there are trees shading the roof. Some people simply don’t like the way they look. Luckily there are options.
Enter solar farms. It is essentially a large expanse of solar panels all in one area. The power is then usually purchased by utility companies ready to jump on the solar train or required by law to begin sourcing some of their electricity from renewable sources.
They have gotten creative with the locations, too. One is currently being planned for Chernobyl. Others have been built floating on the water and over closed landfills. In China there’s one that looks like a panda bear head when seen from above.
One of the largest solar farms in the world sits in San Luis Obispo County in California. Topaz Solar Farm is a 550 megawatt array covering approximately 25 square kilometres. Its nine million panels produce an average of more than 1.3 gWh of electricity annually. T
he energy produced is purchased by Pacific Electric and Gas and can power 160,000 average California homes. This results in the sequestration of over 377,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to removing 73,000 cars from the road. According to First Solar, the US-based manufacturer of the panels, the project has resulted in $417,000 in economic benefit.
Topaz was the largest solar farm as recently as 2014, but here again China and India are blowing far ahead of everyone else in the solar race. The current largest farm weighs in at an astounding 1000 megawatts planned with about 900 of that currently up and running. China has plans for two new farms of 1000 and 1500 megawatts. The largest solar farm in Europe is a 300 megawatt farm in France.
If there’s no solar farm near you, there may be one soon. In the meantime, if you don’t like the look of solar panels on your roof, you can always go with Elon Musk and his beautiful solar roof tiles though the cost of those has yet to drop to an affordable level.
Solar will help with a move forward to a cleaner and greener future.
Also read: Space-based solar power: Powering the earth