Solar Energy : Introduction and Global Facts

Renewable energy holds tremendous promise to satisfy our growing demand of energy as we deplete traditional sources such as coal, oil, etc. Solar power is one of the key sources of renewable energy.

Today, solar energy is generated using two broad technologies:

  1. Direct solar technologies / solar cells / photovoltaic cells (PV) – these technologies generate power directly from sunlight
  2. Concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) / indirect technologies – they convert sun’s heat into thermal energy which is then using mechanical methods converted to electricity

Solar energy accounted for 13% of total renewable electric power capacity (excluding hydro-power) in 2010. While it accounts for a small percentage in absolute terms, solar energy has been one of the fastest growing in terms of capacity additions during 2005-2010. Solar PV capacities grew at a CAGR of 49% during this period, significantly higher than that of wind (27%), hydro (3%), etc.


                              Exhibit: World renewable electricity generation by energy source (bn KW)

                             Source: Energy Information Administration

Presently, solar PV cells dominate the power generation through sunlight. Power generation by solar cells by end of 2010 we 40 GW while that by CSP was just 1 GW. A massive 17 GW solar PV capacity was added in 2010 alone. As the prices of PV (main component of the system) decrease, the use is expected to become even more wide spread.


Largest and fastest growing markets for solar energy


Solar energy market is dominated by developed world. Germany is the largest market with total existing solar PV capacity of 17.3 GW. The key markets are:

  1. Germany (17.3 GW)
  2. Spain (3.8 GW)
  3. Japan (3.6 GW)
  4. Italy (3.5 GW)
  5. USA (2.5 GW)

Fastest growing (CAGR) large markets during 2002-10 are:

  1. Italy (312%)
  2. France (222%)
  3. Spain (167%)

Largest players in solar PV cell manufacturing industry:

Top 15 players in PV cell manufacturing industry accounted for 55% of the production in 2010. 10 of the top 15 players are located in Asia, highlighting the significance of the region as hub of production. Firms in China and Taiwan accounted for close to 60% of the global production. Some of the key players in the solar PV cell manufacturing industry are:

  1. Suntech, China
  2. JA Solar, China
  3. First Solar, USA
  4. Yingli Green Energy, China
  5. Triana Solar, China
  6. Q-cells, Germany