Another Sunny Year for Solar Power

Janet L. Sawin | May 07, 2008

Global production of photovoltaic (PV) or solar cells—which convert the sun’s light directly to electricity—increased 51 percent in 2007, to 3,733 megawatts.1 (See Figure 1.) According to early estimates, more than 2,935 megawatts of solar modules were installed that year, bringing cumulative global installations of PVs since 1996 to more than 9,740 megawatts—enough to meet the annual electricity demand of more than 3 million homes in Europe.2 (See Figure 2.) Over the past five years, annual global production of PV cells has increased nearly sevenfold, and cumulative installations have grown more than fivefold.3

Europe—led by Germany—passed Japan to lead the world in PV manufacture, producing an estimated 1,063 megawatts of solar cells in 2007, up 56 percent over 2006.4 (See Figure 3.) About 40,000 people are now employed in the PV industry in Germany alone, and the German company Q-Cells outproduced Japan’s Sharp to become the number one manufacturer worldwide.5

Germany remains the world’s top PV installer, accounting for almost half of the global market in 2007.6 Thanks to the country’s feed-in tariff for renewable electricity, which requires utilities to pay customers a guaranteed rate for any renewable power they feed into the grid, Germans installed about 1,300 megawatts of new PV capacity, up from 850 megawatts in 2006, for a total exceeding 3,830 megawatts.7 As capacity has risen, PV installed system costs have been cut in half in Germany between 1997 and 2007.8 PVs now meet about 1 percent of Germany’s electricity demand, a share that some analysts expect could reach 25 percent by 2050.9

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