Solar Power

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Solar power is one of the main sources of renewable energy, along with wind, wave, and hydroelectric. Presently, there are two main kinds of solar power. The first is solar photovoltaic (PV), which uses photovoltaic cells to convert the sun’s rays directly into electricity. The second is concentrating solar power (CSP), which works by concentrating the sun’s rays to heat a receiver. This concentrated heat is then used to power a power a steam turbine, which generates electricity. Of the two, PV is by far the more popular. During the period of 2000-2011, PV constituted the fastest growing renewable energy source, with global capacity multiplying approximately 45 times, from 1.5 GW to 67 GW. At present, the only two countries with significant CSP capacity are the US and Spain, with approximately 1 GW and 500 MW capacity, respectively. In the European Union, solar power will constitute a key tool to enable member states to reach their 2020 target of deriving 20% of their electricity from renewable sources.

Renewables energy sources—including solar power—will be key in slowing climate change and limiting global warming to the international redline of  2°C. Solar energy emits far less emissions than do fossil fuel energy sources: apart from emissions released during the construction and installation, solar power is a carbon-neutral energy source. There are several reasons to believe that solar will take a leading role in addressing the climate crisis. First, solar energy is abundant; according to the US Energy Industry Administration (EIA), covering just 4% of the world’s desert space with solar panels could supply the equivalent of all the world’s electricity.

At the same time, solar power is becoming more economical. Falling prices for solar-generated energy (which now is cost-competitive with traditional sources in many Western European countries) indicates that the shift to solar will continue its rapid growth, especially if new technologies can lower installation costs. Energy expert Tony Seba from Stanford University predicts that by 2030, solar will make the fossil fuel industry more or less redundant, and a growing stable of commentators and experts are now saying that the energy transition tipping point is here, and that it is becoming increasingly clear that renewables are unstoppable.


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Quotes

  • “Solar is now bankable.  When solar was perceived as more risky it required a premium.” – Arno Harris, CEO of Sharp Corporation renewable power development unit Recurrent Energy (Bloomberg Businessweek)
  • “All the energy stored in Earth’s reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas is matched by the energy from just 20 days of sunshine.” – Union of Concerned Scientists website
  • “Every minute the sun bathes the Earth in as much energy as the world consumes in an entire year.” – US Department of Energy website
  • “The private sector can be expected to develop improved solar and wind technologies which will begin to become competitive and self-supporting on a national level by the end of the decade if assisted by federally sponsored R&D.” – Booz, Allen & Hamilton, 1983, quoted in “Will renewables become cost-competitive anytime soon?”, Institute for Energy Research website
  • “The apocalyptic views about what it will cost to shift the world to renewable energy simply aren’t true. Three years ago, we thought wind and solar would be cheap as chips, and they’ve even gone below that.” – Michael Liebreich, Chief Executive, Bloomberg New Energy Finance
  • “The list of companies moving to clean, affordable solar energy reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the most successful corporations in America. These iconic brands are leading the way when it comes to efforts to reduce our nation’s dangerous dependence on foreign energy sources.” – SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch

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