Solar poised to heat up

Environmental Research Web: The projected global market for photovoltaic solar energy in 2012 is 11 GW, compared to 2.3 GW in 2007. That’s according to Winfried Hoffmann, president of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) and chief technology officer of Applied Materials’ Solar Business Group. Hoffmann was speaking at the EPIA’s 2nd International Conference on Solar Photovoltaic Investments held in Frankfurt, Germany, on 19 and 20 February.

Grid-connected systems will make up a large part of this market, with Germany, the US and Spain leading the way. The EPIA’s projections assume that adequate public policies are put in place or consolidated. “Public support will be required until solar photovoltaic electricity reaches grid parity by becoming cost competitive with retail electricity prices, firstly in more sunny countries such as Italy or Spain and progressively throughout Europe by 2020,” said Hoffmann.

In 2010, the EPIA predicts that production capacities will be 18 to 20 GW, with thin film products taking about a 20% share. While silicon-based systems have higher efficiencies – at 12 to 21% – and so can output more power per square metre, thin film products, which are up to 10% efficient, are less expensive per peak watt.

“The main bottleneck in the development of silicon-based products in recent years has been a shortage of raw material,” says the EPIA. “Nevertheless, many new players have entered this market and new production plants are being set up. Therefore its availability is increasing and supply should meet demand from 2009 onwards.”

In 2007, for the first time more silicon was assigned to the solar industry than to the semiconductor industry. “This temporary situation of shortage has lead many companies to invest in other technologies such as thin-film or to increase the supply of raw material,” says the EPIA.

This image shows the Sun as viewed by the Soft X-Ray Telescope (SXT) onboard the orbiting Yohkoh satellite, NASA Goddard Laboratory for Atmospheres, Wikimedia Commons

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