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Photovoltaic (PV) solar energy is the fastest growing form of solar energy technology and is what most people think of when they think ‘solar energy’.
Solar PV systems produce energy by converting sunlight into electricity via solar cells within a solar panel or module. Bell Labs in the U.S. invented the first modern solar cell in 1954. They have been produced commercially since 1958. PV systems are typically what people install at home to generate their own electricity, and are now cost competitive with other forms of energy, such as the coal or oil.
As of August 2011, Solar PV costs have fallen to almost $1.50 per watt, a sizable drop from over $3 per watt in 2007. Ernst & Young predicts the cost of solar will fall to $1 a watt by 2013. If prices continue to fall they are expected to be at or below the price of dirty energy sources by 2020, even without subsidies.
More About Solar PV:
- The U.S. is currently ranked 4th worldwide in total Solar PV energy output behind Germany (1st), Spain (2nd) and Japan (3rd).
- Even when solar panels are manufactured elsewhere, solar installers are still needed to install the solar panels, which can’t be outsourced.
- A PV system does not need bright sunlight and continues to generate electricity on cloudy days.
- Solar PV systems are scalable and are able provide energy for a wide range of power requirements, from watts (W) and kilowatts (kW) to megawatts (mW) and gigawatts (gW) in size.
“Solar energy is the most abundant energy resource on earth. The solar energy that hits the earth’s surface in one hour is about the same as the amount consumed by all human activities in a year. Direct conversion of sunlight into electricity in PV cells is one of the three main solar active technologies, the two others being concentrating solar power (CSP) and solar thermal collectors for heating and cooling (SHC). Today, PV provides 0.1% of total global electricity generation.
However, PV is expanding very rapidly due to effective supporting policies and recent dramatic cost reductions. PV is a commercially available and reliable technology with a significant potential for long-term growth in nearly all world regions. In the IEA solar PV roadmap vision, PV is projected to provide 5% of global electricity consumption in 2030, rising to 11% in 2050.” (Source IEA roadmap report)