Thursday, October 18, 2007

Staggering sun power stats

John Schaeffer, founder of Real Goods (now owned by Giaim) and the Solar Living Institute (SLI), sold his first photovoltais (PV) module in 1978 and has never stopped. He's the host of the annual Solarfest that I attended last August.

In his latest message to the SLI mail list subscribers he tells about his visit to an annual solar energy conference.

The Solar Power 2007 Conference in Long Beach, California, in late September, was a real eye opener. This young conference has doubled in size every year for the last three years and this year there were nearly 9,000 paid attendees - the largest solar conference ever, unless of course you count SolFest and the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair, which are consistently larger. I've been going to solar conferences since the early 1980s, and most were noted for their rag tag conglomeration of mission passionate solar pioneers with stars in their eyes.
More impressive than the number of attendees, though, were the projections of solar power as a growing portion of total energy needs in California and the world at large. Not bad! Factor in the optimism that inflates every press release from industry-specific industry annual conferences, and it still looks like a good share of the sustainable energy needs we're looking for. Let's hope these positive trends continue and let's do what we can to make them come true.
  • PV has been growing 70% - 80% annually in the U.S.

  • Solar hot water is growing 50% - 80% every year

  • California has an RPS (renewable portfolio standard) of 20% by 2010, meaning we need to have 20% of our power coming from solar by then.

  • Most CEOs estimate that by 2010 we the world market for PV will be about 15 GW (gigawatts or 15,000 megawatts). Compare this to our current level of a little over 2 GW.

  • Today, worldwide, we get 1/10 of 1% of our power from solar
  • By 2030 we will get 30% of our power from solar

  • By 2100 we will get 70% of our power from solar.
The silicon shortage? As John had it explained to him,
One of the biggest challenges in the solar industry today is the silicon shortage, which has caused the major PV manufacturers to limit the supply to its dealers for the last couple of years, which has wreaked havoc for many smaller installers. It is expected now that this silicon shortage will be gone in approximately two years and the solar floodgates will again become wide open. Many manufacturers are working on PV modules that use less silicon like thinner wafers, thin film technologies, concentrators, and metallurgic grade silicon.
John's perspective of the solar industry - as one of the groundbreakers - was also interesting.
Driving home from the conference my strong sense was that the PV market right now is where home computers were in the late 1970's and cell phones were in the late 1990's. It's both gratifying to be a pioneer in this industry having sold the first PV module in America back in 1978 and daunting to see the tidal wave of the solar economy washing up on our shores so quickly. In the long run it's just what we need if we're to have a chance to mitigate global warming.

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