Solar Energy is radiation that comes from the sun that is capable of producing heat, and subsequently is able to produce electricity.
Through solar panels, technology is capable of transforming the sun’s energy into electricity that we can use in our everyday lives.
Difficulties in battery technology as well as the cost of panels and installation have made exponential growth difficult, but the 2020s could see a dramatic change in this industry and renewables as a whole.
As reported by Statista, capacity has been increasing steadily since 2010, with big leaps happening in the latter part of the last decade.
When it comes to solar power we have to make some distinctions in order to understand the statistics.
Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels are the rooftop panels we see commonly in our everyday lives. PV solar panels make use of the sun’s light through photons, or particles of light energy. We have an energy conversion from light energy into electrical energy. This produces a direct current which can be converted into alternating current.
Concentrated Solar Thermal Systems (CSP) have a different energy transformation. In PV panels we convert light energy to electrical energy. With CSP, we use mirrors to convert light energy into heat, which can then be used to heat water into steam to drive a turbine, which can then generate power. Instead of a direct conversion from light to electricity, we go from light to heat to electricity. This produces alternating current.
But even with these options, cost has continually been a problem until today.
PV solar has decreased dramatically in cost in the last decade and is a lot less expensive compared to CSP. This is largely due to the import difference between the two.
An interesting perspective on it is that CSP doesn’t compete with PV, but rather other thermal power plants. Although CSP makes solar electricity by harvesting sunlight like PV, it operates more like a conventional power plant.
Once the sunlight is collected as heat the actual power plant works the same as any other thermal energy power station – such as ones that use coal, natural gas or nuclear power.
CSP plants, because they are focused on large-scale generation of electricity and the integration of thermal storage devices and possible hybridisation with fossil fuels, are meant to produce a large amount of supply to satisfy a large portion of demand.
In terms of market capitalisation, we see companies from China and the United States dominate the current market. As a whole, Europe and North America have made great leaps in solar energy, but China is consistently showing major success as well.
Similarly, China is projected in both a bear and a bull case to have the highest amount of new installations of solar PV between 2020 and 2024. Developing countries like India and Vietnam are projected to also largely contribute to new installations before 2024, indicating that it’s not just developed nations who are joining this trend.
Other sources, such as statistics from IRENA, have pointed that Australia’s solar power will comprise 40% of its total power generation by 2050. In this outlook, China will only have 23% solar power, and the United States will be at 33%.