At the end of 2014, worldwide PV capacity reached at least 177,000 megawatts. Photovoltaics grew fastest in China, followed by Japan and the United States, while Germany remains the world’s largest overall producer of photovoltaic power, contributing about 7.0 percent to the overall electricity generation. Italy meets 7.9 percent of its electricity demands with photovoltaic power—the highest share worldwide. For 2015, global cumulative capacity is forecasted to increase by more than 50 gigawatts (GW). By 2018, worldwide capacity is projected to reach as much as 430 gigawatts. This corresponds to a tripling within five years. Solar power is forecasted to become the world’s largest source of electricity by 2050, with solar photovoltaics and concentrated solar power contributing 16% and 11%, respectively. This requires an increase of installed PV capacity to 4,600 GW, of which more than half is expected to be deployed in China and India.
In the Mojave Desert at the California/Nevada border, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System uses 347,000 garage-door-sized mirrors to heat water that powers steam generators. This solar thermal plant — one of the clean energy facilities that helps produce 10% of the state’s electricity. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Solar concentrating technologies such as parabolic dish, trough and Scheffler reflectors can provide process heat for commercial and industrial applications. The first commercial system was the Solar Total Energy Project (STEP) in Shenandoah, Georgia, USA where a field of 114 parabolic dishes provided 50% of the process heating, air conditioning and electrical requirements for a clothing factory. This grid-connected cogeneration system provided 400 kW of electricity plus thermal energy in the form of 401 kW steam and 468 kW chilled water, and had a one-hour peak load thermal storage. Evaporation ponds are shallow pools that concentrate dissolved solids through evaporation. The use of evaporation ponds to obtain salt from seawater is one of the oldest applications of solar energy. Modern uses include concentrating brine solutions used in leach mining and removing dissolved solids from waste streams. Clothes lines, clotheshorses, and clothes racks dry clothes through evaporation by wind and sunlight without consuming electricity or gas. In some states of the United States legislation protects the “right to dry” clothes. Unglazed transpired collectors (UTC) are perforated sun-facing walls used for preheating ventilation air. UTCs can raise the incoming air temperature up to 22 °C (40 °F) and deliver outlet temperatures of 45–60 °C (113–140 °F). The short payback period of transpired collectors (3 to 12 years) makes them a more cost-effective alternative than glazed collection systems. As of 2003, over 80 systems with a combined collector area of 35,000 square metres (380,000 sq ft) had been installed worldwide, including an 860 m2 (9,300 sq ft) collector in Costa Rica used for drying coffee beans and a 1,300 m2 (14,000 sq ft) collector in Coimbatore, India, used for drying marigolds.
^ J. Doyne Farmer, François Lafond (2015-11-02). “How predictable is technological progress?”. doi:10.1016/j.respol.2015.11.001. License: cc. Note: Appendix F. A trend extrapolation of solar energy capacity.
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Considering that “the first practical solar cells were made less than 30 years ago,” we have come a long way.The profligation of solar professional companies designing unique and specific solar power systems for individual homes, means there is no longer an excuse not to consider solar power for your home. The biggest jumps in efficiency came “with the advent of the transistor and accompanying semiconductor technology.” The production cost has fallen to nearly 1/300 of what it was during the space program of the mid-century and the purchase cost has gone from $200 per watt in the 1950s to a possible mere $1 per watt today. The efficiency has increased dramatically to 40.8% the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab’s new world record as of August 2008.
Mining these detailed forecasts to develop a more flexible and efficient electricity system could make it much cheaper to hit ambitious international goals for reducing carbon emissions, says Bryan Hannegan, director of a $135 million facility at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, that uses supercomputer simulations to develop ways to scale up renewable power. “We’ve got a line of sight to where we want to go in the long term with our energy and environment goals,” he says. “That’s not something we’ve been able to say before.”
To meet the (arguably optimistic) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projection in the Table 1 scenario for the average carbon intensity in 2050, the projected carbon intensity in 2050 is ≈0.45 kg of C yr−1 W−1, which is lower than that of any of the fossil fuels. The only way one can reach this value of the mean carbon intensity is through a significant contribution of carbon-free power to the total energy mix. This conclusion holds for an economy entirely based on natural gas; to the extent that the mix of consumed fossil fuels is not 100% natural gas but is roughly also equal parts oil and coal, even more carbon-free energy is required to maintain the average of the energy mix at the 0.45 kg of C yr−1 W−1 value. In fact, the amount of carbon-free power required in 2050 to meet these carbon intensity targets is >10 TW and is much greater than 10 TW if emissions are to be lowered such that CO2 can be stabilized at 550 ppm. Even more carbon-free power will be required later in the 21st century if CO2 levels are to be kept below 550 ppm or if a lower atmospheric CO2 target level is desired. By almost any reasonable estimate, stabilization of atmospheric CO2 levels at 550 ppm or lower will require as much carbon-neutral power by approximately the year 2050 as the amount of power produced at present from all energy sources combined (4). Furthermore, because CO2 emissions are cumulative on a century-level timescale, even higher levels of carbon-neutral power are required by 2050 if their introduction does not start immediately with a constant rampup but instead are delayed by 20 yr for their commissioning while awaiting technology development and/or policy and socioeconomic interventions.
A solar cell, or photovoltaic cell https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=ej0QiPC3jfI is a device that converts light into electric current using the photovoltaic effect. The first solar cell was constructed by Charles Fritts in the 1880s. The German industrialist Ernst Werner von Siemens was among those who recognized the importance of this discovery. In 1931, the German engineer Bruno Lange developed a photo cell using silver selenide in place of copper oxide, although the prototype selenium cells converted less than 1% of incident light into electricity. Following the work of Russell Ohl in the 1940s, researchers Gerald Pearson, Calvin Fuller and Daryl Chapin created the silicon solar cell in 1954. These early solar cells cost 286 USD/watt and reached efficiencies of 4.5–6%.