Renewable Energy Technology

Solar Power

Current Status

Each and every hour, the sun provides enough energy to power the entire world for an entire year. That is a massive amount of energy just waiting to be harnessed. In today’s social and political climate, with significantly greater environmental awareness, and as traditional “dirty” sources of power are facing greater and greater obstacles to construction and implementation, solar power stands to gain enormous traction. In fact, in 2008, photovoltaic installations around the world increased by 110%, with Spain taking the lead, Germany coming in second, and the United States taking third place with an additional 360 MW.

The world currently has a photovoltaic system capacity of approximately 15 GW, which provides only enough electricity to covers less than 0.01% of global demand. With 2 billion people in the world still completely without electricity, demand is expected to increase, and a significant portion of that demand is expected to be satisfied by solar power. In fact, in many developing countries without electricity, solar power is thought to be the only practical solution to fulfilling demand.

In North America, photovoltaic installations and production have steadily increased by about 25% per year in the last decade. Photovoltaic manufacturing has also increased, with sales in Canada rising 42% in 2007 and three quarters of those modules going into off-grid markets. The expansion potential in the United States is still significant, with the country’s buildings offering enough rooftop space to place solar panels capable of providing half of the country’s current electric capacity.

But for Canada, the largest market increase has come from the export of photovoltaic modules. Sales in that area increased a massive 640% in 2007.

All of these numbers also equate to dollar signs. Worldwide, the photovoltaic industry brought in revenues of approximately $37 billion and total investments of $12.5 billion in 2008. Those are enormous sums of money that still have the potential for massive growth.

The Vision

Countries around the world are pressing hard for renewable sources of energy, and solar power is a major component of those policies. Germany, in particular, has instituted massive financial incentives for photovoltaic installations, dramatically increasing solar energy’s popularity in that country.

In the United States, the Department of Energy has instituted a program aimed at increasing photovoltaic capacity to 5–10 GW by 2015, which would provide enough energy to power 1–2 million homes.

Many of the Canadian provinces are also instituting programs to encourage renewable energy production. Ontario, in particular, is looking at a program that would follow Germany’s lead by raising the purchase cost of renewable energy to an amount greater than the actual market value.

Economically, the costs of photovoltaic energy production are still not on par with more traditional sources of energy, but the current rate of approximately 20 cents per kWh is expected to fall to 15 cents by 2011.

The Benefits

The potential benefits of solar energy are enormous. Environmentally, of course, photovoltaic cells have the potential to produce enough energy to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions by millions of metric tons each year. By replacing fossil fuel, nuclear, and natural gas production, solar energy also stands to eliminate a significant portion of water consumption, protecting one of the world’s most valued resources.

In the United States, in particular, with its decaying and outdated electrical infrastructure, photovoltaic power has the potential to help diversify the country’s means of electrical production. This would not only enhance the reliability of the electrical grid, but it would also help minimize the potentially devastating effects of a catastrophic failure within the electrical infrastructure. Solar power could be seen not only as a renewable source of energy, but also as a source of greater national security.

Of course, with significant development in any industry comes the potential for new jobs. The United States predicts that if it reaches its photovoltaic goals by 2015, the number of new jobs created will be around 30,000. Due to the nature of the industry, most of these jobs will be high-tech or require significant training, which means high salaries.

What RET Can Do for Your Solar Project

This is an exciting time for developments in solar energy. With such high potential for growth and a worldwide political embrace of renewable energy technologies, photovoltaic projects are in a prime position for high investment returns. At RET, we understand the complex regulations and potential financial incentives for solar energy development around the world. We can work with you to ensure that you have the best information available, and with our industry contacts, we can help get your project off to a great start.

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Renewable Energy Technology