Solar power

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about generation of electricity using solar energy. For other uses of solar energy, see Solar energy.
The first three units of Spain's Solnova Solar Power Station in the foreground, with the PS10 and PS20 solar power towers in the background
Solar PV power generation in Hong Kong

Solar power is the conversion of sunlight into electricity, either directly using photovoltaics (PV), or indirectly using concentrated solar power (CSP). Concentrated solar power systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. Photovoltaics convert light into electric current using the photovoltaic effect.[1]

Photovoltaics were initially, and still are, used to power small and medium-sized applications, from the calculator powered by a single solar cell to off-grid homes powered by a photovoltaic array. They are an important and relatively inexpensive source of electrical energy where grid power is inconvenient, unreasonably expensive to connect, or simply unavailable. However, as the cost of solar electricity is falling, solar power is also increasingly being used even in grid-connected situations as a way to feed low-carbon energy into the grid.

Commercial concentrated solar power plants were first developed in the 1980s. The 392 MW ISEGS CSP installation is the largest solar power plant in the world, located in the Mojave Desert of California. Other large CSP plants include the SEGS (354 MW) in the Mojave Desert of California, the Solnova Solar Power Station (150 MW) and the Andasol solar power station (150 MW), both in Spain. The 290 MW Agua Caliente Solar Project in the United States, and the 221 MW Charanka Solar Park in India, are the world’s largest photovoltaic power stations.

Concentrated solar power

A diagram of a parabolic trough solar farm (top), and an end view of how a parabolic collector focuses sunlight onto its focal point.

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. The concentrated heat is then used as a heat source for a conventional power plant. A wide range of concentrating technologies exists: the most developed are the parabolic trough [discuss], the concentrating linear fresnel reflector, the Stirling dish and the solar power tower. Various techniques are used to track the sun and focus light. In all of these systems a working fluid is heated by the concentrated sunlight, and is then used for power generation or energy storage.[2] Thermal storage efficiently allows up to 24 hour electricity generation.[3]

A parabolic trough consists of a linear parabolic reflector that concentrates light onto a receiver positioned along the reflector's focal line. The receiver is a tube positioned right above the middle of the parabolic mirror and is filled with a working fluid. The reflector is made to follow the sun during daylight hours by tracking along a single axis. Parabolic trough systems provide the best land-use factor of any solar technology.[4] The SEGS plants in California and Acciona's Nevada Solar One near Boulder City, Nevada are representatives of this technology.[5][6]

Compact Linear Fresnel Reflectors are CSP-plants which use many thin mirror strips instead of parabolic mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto two tubes with working fluid. This has the advantage that flat mirrors can be used which are much cheaper than parabolic mirrors, and that more reflectors can be placed in the same amount of space, allowing more of the available sunlight to be used. Concentrating linear fresnel reflectors can be used in either large or more compact plants.[7][8]

The Stirling solar dish combines a parabolic concentrating dish with a Stirling engine which normally drives an electric generator. The advantages of Stirling solar over photovoltaic cells are higher efficiency of converting sunlight into electricity and longer lifetime. Parabolic dish systems give the highest efficiency among CSP technologies.[9] The 50 kW Big Dish in Canberra, Australia is an example of this technology.[5]

A solar power tower uses an array of tracking reflectors (heliostats) to concentrate light on a central receiver atop a tower. Power towers are more cost effective, offer higher efficiency and better energy storage capability among CSP technologies.[5] The PS10 Solar Power Plant and PS20 solar power plant are examples of this technology.


Main article: Photovoltaics
The 71.8 MW Lieberose Photovoltaic Park in Germany.

A solar cell, or photovoltaic cell (PV), is a device that converts light into electric current using the photovoltaic effect. The first solar cell was constructed by Charles Fritts in the 1880s.[10] The German industrialist Ernst Werner von Siemens was among those who recognized the importance of this discovery.[11] In 1931, the German engineer Bruno Lange developed a photo cell using silver selenide in place of copper oxide,[12] although the prototype selenium cells converted less than 1% of incident light into electricity. Following the work of Russell Ohl in the 1940s, researchers Gerald Pearson, Calvin Fuller and Daryl Chapin created the silicon solar cell in 1954.[13] These early solar cells cost 286 USD/watt and reached efficiencies of 4.5–6%.[14]

Photovoltaic power systems

Main article: Photovoltaic system
Simplified schematics of a grid-connected residential PV power system[15]

Solar cells produce direct current (DC) power which fluctuates with the sunlight's intensity. For practical use this usually requires conversion to certain desired voltages or alternating current (AC), through the use of inverters.[15] Multiple solar cells are connected inside modules. Modules are wired together to form arrays, then tied to an inverter, which produces power at the desired voltage, and for AC, the desired frequency/phase.[15]

Many residential systems are connected to the grid wherever available, especially in developed countries with large markets.[16] In these grid-connected PV systems, use of energy storage is optional. In certain applications such as satellites, lighthouses, or in developing countries, batteries or additional power generators are often added as back-ups. Such stand-alone power systems permit operations at night and at other times of limited sunlight.

Development and deployment

Electricity Generation from Solar[17]
YearEnergy (TWh)% of Total

The early development of solar technologies starting in the 1860s was driven by an expectation that coal would soon become scarce. However, development of solar technologies stagnated in the early 20th century in the face of the increasing availability, economy, and utility of coal and petroleum.[18] In 1974 it was estimated that only six private homes in all of North America were entirely heated or cooled by functional solar power systems.[19] The 1973 oil embargo and 1979 energy crisis caused a reorganization of energy policies around the world and brought renewed attention to developing solar technologies.[20][21] Deployment strategies focused on incentive programs such as the Federal Photovoltaic Utilization Program in the US and the Sunshine Program in Japan. Other efforts included the formation of research facilities in the US (SERI, now NREL), Japan (NEDO), and Germany (Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE).[22]

Between 1970 and 1983 photovoltaic installations grew rapidly, but falling oil prices in the early 1980s moderated the growth of PV from 1984 to 1996. Since 1997, PV development has accelerated due to supply issues with oil and natural gas, global warming concerns, and the improving economic position of PV relative to other energy technologies.[23] Photovoltaic production growth has averaged 40% per year since 2000 and worldwide installed capacity reached 139 GW at the end of 2013 with Germany having the most cumulative installations (35.7 GW) and Italy having the highest percentage of electricity generated by solar (7.0%).[24]

In 2010, the International Energy Agency predicted that global solar PV capacity could reach 3,000 GW by 2050; enough to produce 4,500 TWh of electricity (11% of 2050's projected global electricity generation) per year.[25]

As of October 2011, the largest photovoltaic (PV) power plants in the world are the Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant (Canada, 97 MW), Montalto di Castro Photovoltaic Power Station (Italy, 84.2 MW) and Finsterwalde Solar Park (Germany, 80.7 MW).[26]

Solar photovoltaic installation in Germany (MW) plotted against 58% growth curve

There are also many large plants under construction. The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is a 550 MW solar power plant under construction in Riverside County, California, that will use thin-film solar photovoltaic modules made by First Solar.[27] The Topaz Solar Farm is a 550 MW photovoltaic power plant, being built in San Luis Obispo County, California.[28] The Blythe Solar Power Project is a 500 MW photovoltaic station under construction in Riverside County, California. The Agua Caliente Solar Project is a 290 megawatt photovoltaic solar generating facility being built in Yuma County, Arizona. The California Valley Solar Ranch (CVSR) is a 250 megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic power plant, which is being built by SunPower in the Carrizo Plain, northeast of California Valley.[29] The 230 MW Antelope Valley Solar Ranch is a First Solar photovoltaic project which is under construction in the Antelope Valley area of the Western Mojave Desert, and due to be completed in 2013.[30]

At the end of September 2013, IKEA announced that solar panel packages for houses will be sold at 17 United Kingdom IKEA stores by the end of July 2014. The decision followed a successful pilot project at the Lakeside IKEA store, whereby one photovoltaic (PV) system was sold almost every day. The panels are manufactured by a Chinese company named Hanergy Holding Group Ltd.[31]

Photovoltaic power stations

World's largest photovoltaic power stations (50 MW or larger)[26]
PV power stationCountryDC peak power
Topaz Solar Farm[32]USA375550 MW when complete
Agua Caliente Solar Project[33]USA290397 MW when complete
Charanka Solar Park[34][35]India221Completed 2012
Golmud Solar Park[26][36][37][38]China200Completed 2011
Mesquite Solar projectUSA150up to 700 MW when complete
Neuhardenberg Solar Park[26][39]Germany145Completed September 2012. A group of 11 co-located plant by the same developer[40] but with different IPPs
Templin Solar Park[26][41]Germany128.48Completed September 2012
Toul-Rosières Solar Park[42]France115Completed November 2012
Perovo Solar Park[43]Ukraine100Completed 2011
Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant[44]Canada97 [26]Constructed 2009–2010[45]
Montalto di Castro Photovoltaic Power Station[26]Italy84.2Constructed 2009–2010
Finsterwalde Solar Park[46][47]Germany80.7Phase I completed 2009, phase II and III 2010
Okhotnykovo Solar ParkUkraine80Completed 2011
Solarpark Senftenberg[26][48]Germany78Phase II and III completed 2011, another 70 MW phase planned
Lieberose Photovoltaic Park [49][50]Germany71.8
Rovigo Photovoltaic Power Plant[51][52]Italy70Completed November 2010
Olmedilla Photovoltaic ParkSpain60Completed September 2008
Strasskirchen Solar ParkGermany54
Puertollano Photovoltaic ParkSpain50opened 2008

Concentrating solar thermal power

Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System with all three towers under load during February 2014, with the Clark Mountain Range seen in the distance.
Part of the 354 MW Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS) parabolic trough solar complex in northern San Bernardino County, California.

Commercial concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) plants were first developed in the 1980s. The 370 MW Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, located in California's Mojave Desert, is the world’s largest solar thermal power plant project. Other large CSP plants include the Solnova Solar Power Station (150 MW), the Andasol solar power station (150 MW), and Extresol Solar Power Station (100 MW), all in Spain.

The principal advantage of CSP is the ability to efficiently add thermal storage, allowing the dispatching of electricity over up to a 24-hour period. Since peak electricity demand typically occurs at about 5 pm, many CSP power plants use 3 to 5 hours of thermal storage.[53]

Largest operational solar thermal power stations
354Solar Energy Generating Systems USAMojave Desert CaliforniaCollection of 9 units
280Solana Generating Station USAGila Bend, ArizonaCompleted in October 2013, with 6h thermal energy storage[54][55]
200Solaben Solar Power Station[56] SpainLogrosánSolaben 3 completed June 2012[57]
Solaben 2 completed October 2012[57]
Solaben 1 and 6 completed September 2013[58]
150Solnova Solar Power Station SpainSevilleCompleted 2010
150Andasol solar power station SpainGranadacompleted 2011, with 7.5h thermal energy storage[62][63]
150Extresol Solar Power Station SpainTorre de Miguel SesmeroExtresol 1 completed February 2010
Extresol 2 completed December 2010
Extresol 3 completed August 2012, with 7.5h thermal energy storage[57][64][65]
100Palma del Rio Solar Power Station SpainPalma del RíoPalma del Rio 2 completed December 2010[57]
Palma del Rio 1 completed July 2011[57]
100Manchasol Power Station SpainAlcázar de San JuanManchasol-1 completed January 2011, with 7.5h heat storage[57]
Manchasol-2 completed April 2011, with 7.5h heat storage[57]
100Valle Solar Power Station SpainSan José del ValleCompleted December 2011, with 7.5h heat storage[57][66]
100Helioenergy Solar Power Station SpainÉcijaHelioenergy 1 completed September 2011[67][68]
Helioenergy 2 completed January 2012[57][67][68]
100Aste Solar Power Station SpainAlcázar de San JuanAste 1A Completed January 2012, with 8h heat storage[57]
Aste 1B Completed January 2012, with 8h heat storage[57]
100Solacor Solar Power Station SpainEl CarpioSolacor 1 completed February 2012[57]
Solacor 2 completed March 2012[57][69]
100Helios Solar Power Station SpainPuerto LápiceHelios 1 completed May 2012[57]
Helios 2 completed August 2012[57]


Average insolation showing land area (small black dots) required to replace the world primary energy supply with solar electricity (18 TW or 568 Exajoule, EJ, per year). Insolation for most people is from 150 to 300 W/m2 or 3.5 to 7.0 kWh/(m2day).
Projection of levelized cost of PV energy in Europe.[70]
US average daily solar energy insolation received by an optimally latitude-tilted fixed photovoltaic cell.
European average kWh produced per year for an optimally latitude-tilted fixed photovoltaic kW(peak) array[71]

Photovoltaic systems use no fuel and modules typically last 25 to 40 years. The cost of installation is almost the only cost, as there is very little maintenance required. Installation cost is measured in $/watt or €/watt. The electricity generated is sold for ¢/kWh. 1 watt of installed photovoltaics generates roughly 1 to 2 kWh/year, as a result of the local insolation. The product of the local cost of electricity and the insolation determines the break even point for solar power. The International Conference on Solar Photovoltaic Investments, organized by EPIA, has estimated that PV systems will pay back their investors in 8 to 12 years.[72] As a result, since 2006 it has been economical for investors to install photovoltaics for free in return for a long term power purchase agreement. Fifty percent of commercial systems were installed in this manner in 2007 and over 90% by 2009.[73]

As of 2011, the cost of PV has fallen well below that of nuclear power and is set to fall further. The average retail price of solar cells as monitored by the Solarbuzz group fell from $3.50/watt to $2.43/watt over the course of 2011, and a decline to prices below $2.00/watt seems inevitable:[74]

Economic photovoltaic capacity vs installation cost, in the United States.

A U.S. study of the amount of economic installations agrees closely with the actual installations.

For large-scale installations, prices below $1.00/watt are now common. In some locations, PV has reached grid parity, the cost at which it is competitive with coal or gas-fired generation. More generally, it is now evident that, given a carbon price of $50/ton, which would raise the price of coal-fired power by 5c/kWh, solar PV will be cost-competitive in most locations. The declining price of PV has been reflected in rapidly growing installations, totalling about 23 GW in 2011. Although some consolidation is likely in 2012, as firms try to restore profitability, strong growth seems likely to continue for the rest of the decade. Already, by one estimate, total investment in renewables for 2011 exceeded investment in carbon-based electricity generation.[74]

Additionally, governments have created various financial incentives to encourage the use of solar power, such as feed-in tariff programs. Also, Renewable portfolio standards impose a government mandate that utilities generate or acquire a certain percentage of renewable power regardless of increased energy procurement costs. In most states, RPS goals can be achieved by any combination of solar, wind, biomass, landfill gas, ocean, geothermal, municipal solid waste, hydroelectric, hydrogen, or fuel cell technologies.[75]

Shi Zhengrong has said that, as of 2012, unsubsidised solar power is already competitive with fossil fuels in India, Hawaii, Italy and Spain. He said "We are at a tipping point. No longer are renewable power sources like solar and wind a luxury of the rich. They are now starting to compete in the real world without subsidies". "Solar power will be able to compete without subsidies against conventional power sources in half the world by 2015".[76]

Energy cost

The PV industry is beginning to adopt levelized cost of energy (LCOE) as the unit of cost. For a 10 MW plant in Phoenix, AZ, the LCOE is estimated at $0.15 to 0.22/kWh in 2005.[77]

The table below illustrates the calculated total cost in US cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by a photovoltaic system as function of the investment cost and the efficiency, assuming some accounting parameters such as cost of capital and depreciation period. The row headings on the left show the total cost, per peak kilowatt (kWp), of a photovoltaic installation. The column headings across the top refer to the annual energy output in kilowatt-hours expected from each installed peak kilowatt. This varies by geographic region because the average insolation depends on the average cloudiness and the thickness of atmosphere traversed by the sunlight. It also depends on the path of the sun relative to the panel and the horizon.

Panels can be mounted at an angle based on latitude,[78] or solar tracking can be utilized to access even more perpendicular sunlight, thereby raising the total energy output. The calculated values in the table reflect the total cost in cents per kilowatt-hour produced. They assume a 5%/year total capital cost (for instance 4% interest rate, 1% operating and maintenance cost, and depreciation of the capital outlay over 20 years).

Grid parity

Main article: Grid parity

Grid parity, the point at which the cost of photovoltaic electricity is equal to or cheaper than the price of grid power, is more easily achieved in areas with abundant sun and high costs for electricity such as in California and Japan.[79]

The fully loaded cost (cost not price) of solar electricity in 2008 was $0.25/kWh or less in most of the OECD countries. By late 2011, the fully loaded cost was predicted to fall below $0.15/kWh for most of the OECD and reach $0.10/kWh in sunnier regions. These cost levels are driving three emerging trends:[80]

  1. vertical integration of the supply chain;
  2. origination of power purchase agreements (PPAs) by solar power companies;
  3. unexpected risk for traditional power generation companies, grid operators and wind turbine manufacturers.

Grid parity was first reached in Spain in 2013,[81] Hawaii and other islands that otherwise use fossil fuel (diesel fuel) to produce electricity, and most of the US is expected to reach grid parity by 2015.[82][83]

General Electric's Chief Engineer predicted grid parity without subsidies in sunny parts of the United States by around 2015. Other companies predict an earlier date:[84] the cost of solar power will be below grid parity for more than half of residential customers and 10% of commercial customers in the OECD, as long as grid electricity prices do not decrease through 2010.[80]

Self Consumption

In cases of self consumption of the solar energy the payback time is calculated based on how much electricity is not purchased from the grid.

For example, in Germany, with electricity prices of 0.25 Euro/KWh and insolation of 900 KWh/KW, one KWp will save 225 Euro per year, and with an installation cost of 1700 Euro/KWp the system cost will be returned in less than 7 years.[85]

However, in many cases, the patterns of generation and consumption do not coincide, and some or all of the energy is fed back into the grid. The electricity is sold, and at other times when energy is taken from the grid, electricity is bought. The relative costs and prices obtained affect the economics.

Energy pricing and incentives

The political purpose of incentive policies for PV is to facilitate an initial small-scale deployment to begin to grow the industry, even where the cost of PV is significantly above grid parity, to allow the industry to achieve the economies of scale necessary to reach grid parity. The policies are implemented to promote national energy independence, high tech job creation and reduction of CO2 emissions.

Three incentive mechanisms are used (often in combination):


With investment subsidies, the financial burden falls upon the taxpayer, while with feed-in tariffs the extra cost is distributed across the utilities' customer bases. While the investment subsidy may be simpler to administer, the main argument in favour of feed-in tariffs is the encouragement of quality. Investment subsidies are paid out as a function of the nameplate capacity of the installed system and are independent of its actual power yield over time, thus rewarding the overstatement of power and tolerating poor durability and maintenance. Some electric companies offer rebates to their customers, such as Austin Energy in Texas, which offers $2.50/watt installed up to $15,000.[86]

Net metering

Main article: Net metering
Net metering, unlike a feed-in tariff, requires only one meter, but it must be bi-directional.

In net metering the price of the electricity produced is the same as the price supplied to the consumer, and the consumer is billed on the difference between production and consumption. Net metering can usually be done with no changes to standard electricity meters, which accurately measure power in both directions and automatically report the difference, and because it allows homeowners and businesses to generate electricity at a different time from consumption, effectively using the grid as a giant storage battery. With net metering, deficits are billed each month while surpluses are rolled over to the following month. Best practices call for perpetual roll over of kWh credits.[87] Excess credits upon termination of service are either lost, or paid for at a rate ranging from wholesale to retail rate or above, as can be excess annual credits. In New Jersey, annual excess credits are paid at the wholesale rate, as are left over credits when a customer terminates service.[88]

Feed-in Tariffs (FiT)

With feed-in tariffs, the financial burden falls upon the consumer. They reward the number of kilowatt-hours produced over a long period of time, but because the rate is set by the authorities, it may result in perceived overpayment. The price paid per kilowatt-hour under a feed-in tariff exceeds the price of grid electricity. Net metering refers to the case where the price paid by the utility is the same as the price charged.

Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs)

Alternatively, SRECs allow for a market mechanism to set the price of the solar generated electricity subsity. In this mechanism, a renewable energy production or consumption target is set, and the utility (more technically the Load Serving Entity) is obliged to purchase renewable energy or face a fine (Alternative Compliance Payment or ACP). The producer is credited for an SREC for every 1,000 kWh of electricity produced. If the utility buys this SREC and retires it, they avoid paying the ACP. In principle this system delivers the cheapest renewable energy, since the all solar facilities are eligible and can be installed in the most economic locations. Uncertainties about the future value of SRECs have led to long-term SREC contract markets to give clarity to their prices and allow solar developers to pre-sell/hedge their SRECs.

Financial incentives for photovoltaics differ across countries, including Australia, China,[89] Germany,[90] Israel,[91] Japan, and the United States and even across states within the US.

The Japanese government through its Ministry of International Trade and Industry ran a successful programme of subsidies from 1994 to 2003. By the end of 2004, Japan led the world in installed PV capacity with over 1.1 GW.[92]

In 2004, the German government introduced the first large-scale feed-in tariff system, under a law known as the 'EEG' (Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz) which resulted in explosive growth of PV installations in Germany. At the outset the FIT was over 3x the retail price or 8x the industrial price. The principle behind the German system is a 20 year flat rate contract. The value of new contracts is programmed to decrease each year, in order to encourage the industry to pass on lower costs to the end users. The programme has been more successful than expected with over 1GW installed in 2006, and political pressure is mounting to decrease the tariff to lessen the future burden on consumers.

Subsequently, Spain, Italy, Greece (who enjoyed an early success with domestic solar-thermal installations for hot water needs) and France introduced feed-in tariffs. None have replicated the programmed decrease of FIT in new contracts though, making the German incentive relatively less and less attractive compared to other countries. The French and Greek FIT offer a high premium (EUR 0.55/kWh) for building integrated systems. California, Greece, France and Italy have 30-50% more insolation than Germany making them financially more attractive. The Greek domestic "solar roof" programme (adopted in June 2009 for installations up to 10 kW) has internal rates of return of 10-15% at current commercial installation costs, which, furthermore, is tax free.

In 2006 California approved the 'California Solar Initiative', offering a choice of investment subsidies or FIT for small and medium systems and a FIT for large systems. The small-system FIT of $0.39 per kWh (far less than EU countries) expires in just 5 years, and the alternate "EPBB" residential investment incentive is modest, averaging perhaps 20% of cost. All California incentives are scheduled to decrease in the future depending as a function of the amount of PV capacity installed.

At the end of 2006, the Ontario Power Authority (OPA, Canada) began its Standard Offer Program (SOP), the first in North America for small renewable projects (10MW or less). This guarantees a fixed price of $0.42 CDN per kWh over a period of twenty years. Unlike net metering, all the electricity produced is sold to the OPA at the SOP rate. The generator then purchases any needed electricity at the current prevailing rate (e.g., $0.055 per kWh). The difference should cover all the costs of installation and operation over the life of the contract. On 1 October 2009, OPA issued a Feed-in Tariff (FIT) program, increasing this fixed price to $0.802 per kWh.[93]

The price per kilowatt hour or per peak kilowatt of the FIT or investment subsidies is only one of three factors that stimulate the installation of PV. The other two factors are insolation (the more sunshine, the less capital is needed for a given power output) and administrative ease of obtaining permits and contracts.

Unfortunately the complexity of approvals in California, Spain and Italy has prevented comparable growth to Germany even though the return on investment is better.

In some countries, additional incentives are offered for BIPV compared to stand alone PV.

Environmental impacts

Part of the 78 MW Phase 1 section of the photovoltaic Senftenberg Solarpark, located on former open-pit mining areas in eastern Germany
A solar-powered trash compactor on a residential corner in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Unlike fossil fuel based technologies, solar power does not lead to any harmful emissions during operation, but the production of the panels leads to some amount of pollution.

Greenhouse gases

The Life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions of solar power are in the range of 22 to 46  g/kWh depending on if solar thermal or solar PV is being analyzed, respectively. With this potentially being decreased to 15 g/kWh in the future.[94] For comparison (of weighted averages), a combined cycle gas-fired power plant emits some 400-599 g/kWh,[95] an oil-fired power plant 893 g/kWh,[95] a coal-fired power plant 915-994 g/kWh[96] or with carbon capture and storage some 200 g/kWh, and a geothermal high-temp. power plant 91-122 g/kWh.[95] The life cycle emission intensity of hydro, wind and nuclear power are lower than solar's as of 2011 as published by the IPCC, and discussed in the article Life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions of energy sources. Similar to all energy sources were their total life cycle emissions primarily lay in the construction and transportation phase, the switch to low carbon power in the manufacturing and transportation of solar devices would further reduce carbon emissions. BP Solar owns two factories built by Solarex (one in Maryland, the other in Virginia) in which all of the energy used to manufacture solar panels is produced by solar panels. A 1-kilowatt system eliminates the burning of approximately 170 pounds of coal, 300 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, and saves up to 105 gallons of water consumption monthly.[97]

Energy payback

The energy payback time of a power generating system is the time required to generate as much energy as was consumed during production of the system. In 2000 the energy payback time of PV systems was estimated as 8 to 11 years[98] and in 2006 this was estimated to be 1.5 to 3.5 years for crystalline silicon PV systems[94] and 1-1.5 years for thin film technologies (S. Europe).[94]

Another economic measure, closely related to the energy payback time, is the energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) or energy return on investment (EROI),[99] which is the ratio of electricity generated divided by the energy required to build and maintain the equipment. (This is not the same as the economic return on investment (ROI), which varies according to local energy prices, subsidies available and metering techniques.) With lifetimes of at least 30 years[citation needed], the EROEI of PV systems are in the range of 10 to 30, thus generating enough energy over their lifetimes to reproduce themselves many times (6-31 reproductions) depending on what type of material, balance of system (BOS), and the geographic location of the system.[100]


One issue that has often raised concerns is the use of cadmium in cadmium telluride solar cells (CdTe is only used in a few types of PV panels). Cadmium in its metallic form is a toxic substance that has the tendency to accumulate in ecological food chains. The amount of cadmium used in thin-film PV modules is relatively small (5-10 g/m²) and with proper emission control techniques in place the cadmium emissions from module production can be almost zero. Current PV technologies lead to cadmium emissions of 0.3-0.9 microgram/kWh over the whole life-cycle.[94] Most of these emissions actually arise through the use of coal power for the manufacturing of the modules, and coal and lignite combustion leads to much higher emissions of cadmium. Life-cycle cadmium emissions from coal is 3.1 microgram/kWh, lignite 6.2, and natural gas 0.2 microgram/kWh.

Note that if electricity produced by photovoltaic panels were used to manufacture the modules instead of electricity from burning coal, cadmium emissions from coal power usage in the manufacturing process could be entirely eliminated.[101]


CBS News has reported that solar power plants have burned many birds to death. [2]

Energy storage methods

Main articles: Grid energy storage and V2G
The 150 MW Andasol solar power station is a commercial parabolic trough solar thermal power plant, located in Spain. The Andasol plant uses tanks of molten salt to store solar energy so that it can continue generating electricity even when the sun isn't shining.[102]
This energy park in Geesthacht, Germany, includes solar panels and pumped-storage hydroelectricity.
Seasonal variation of the output of the solar panels at AT&T Park in San Francisco

Solar energy is not available at night, making energy storage an important issue in order to provide the continuous availability of energy.[103] Both wind power and solar power are intermittent energy sources, meaning that all available output must be taken when it is available and either stored for when it can be used, or transported, over transmission lines, to where it can be used.

Off-grid PV systems have traditionally used rechargeable batteries to store excess electricity. With grid-tied systems, excess electricity can be sent to the transmission grid. Net metering and feed-in tariff programs give these systems a credit for the electricity they produce. This credit offsets electricity provided from the grid when the system cannot meet demand, effectively using the grid as a storage mechanism. Credits are normally rolled over from month to month and any remaining surplus settled annually.[104] When wind and solar are a small fraction of the grid power, other generation techniques can adjust their output appropriately, but as these forms of variable power grow, this becomes less practical.

Solar energy can be stored at high temperatures using molten salts. Salts are an effective storage medium because they are low-cost, have a high specific heat capacity and can deliver heat at temperatures compatible with conventional power systems. The Solar Two used this method of energy storage, allowing it to store 1.44 TJ in its 68 m³ storage tank, enough to provide full output for close to 39 hours, with an efficiency of about 99%.[105]

Conventional hydroelectricity works very well in conjunction with intermittent electricity sources such as solar and wind, the water can be held back and allowed to flow as required with virtually no energy loss. Where a suitable river is not available, pumped-storage hydroelectricity stores energy in the form of water pumped when surplus electricity is available, from a lower elevation reservoir to a higher elevation one. The energy is recovered when demand is high by releasing the water: the pump becomes a turbine, and the motor a hydroelectric power generator.[106] However, this loses some of the energy to pumpage losses.

Artificial photosynthesis involves the use of nanotechnology to store solar electromagnetic energy in chemical bonds, by splitting water to produce hydrogen fuel or then combining with carbon dioxide to make biopolymers such as methanol. Many large national and regional research projects on artificial photosynthesis are now trying to develop techniques integrating improved light capture, quantum coherence methods of electron transfer and cheap catalytic materials that operate under a variety of atmospheric conditions.[107] Senior researchers in the field have made the public policy case for a Global Project on Artificial Photosynthesis to address critical energy security and environmental sustainability issues.[108]

Wind power and solar power tend to be somewhat complementary, as there tends to be more wind in the winter and more sun in the summer, but on days with no sun and no wind the difference needs to be made up in some manner.[109] Solar power is seasonal, particularly in northern/southern climates, away from the equator, suggesting a need for long term seasonal storage in a medium such as hydrogen. The storage requirements vary and in some cases can be met with biomass.[110] The Institute for Solar Energy Supply Technology of the University of Kassel pilot-tested a combined power plant linking solar, wind, biogas and hydrostorage to provide load-following power around the clock, entirely from renewable sources.[111]

Experimental solar power

Concentrating photovoltaics in Catalonia, Spain
Nellis Solar Power Plant, a 14 MW power plant in Nevada, United States

Concentrated photovoltaics (CPV) systems employ sunlight concentrated onto photovoltaic surfaces for the purpose of electrical power production. Solar concentrators of all varieties may be used, and these are often mounted on a solar tracker in order to keep the focal point upon the cell as the sun moves across the sky.[112] Luminescent solar concentrators (when combined with a PV-solar cell) can also be regarded as a CPV system. Concentrated photovoltaics are useful as they can improve efficiency of PV-solar panels drastically.[113]

Thermoelectric, or "thermovoltaic" devices convert a temperature difference between dissimilar materials into an electric current. First proposed as a method to store solar energy by solar pioneer Mouchout in the 1800s,[114] thermoelectrics reemerged in the Soviet Union during the 1930s. Under the direction of Soviet scientist Abram Ioffe a concentrating system was used to thermoelectrically generate power for a 1 hp engine.[115] Thermogenerators, but in the following cases powered by the heat source plutonium-238 in radioisotope thermoelectric generators are used in the US space program as an energy conversion technology for powering deep space missions such as the Mars Curiosity rover, Cassini, Galileo and Viking. Research in this area of thermogenerators, which can use any heat source, is focused on raising the efficiency of these devices from 7–8% to 15–20%.[116]

Physicists have claimed that recent technological developments bring the cost of solar energy more in parity with that of fossil fuels. In 2007, David Faiman, the director of the Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center of Israel, announced that the Center had entered into a project with Zenith Solar to create a home solar energy system that uses a 10 square meter reflector dish.[117] In testing, the concentrated solar technology proved to be up to five times more cost effective than standard flat photovoltaic silicon panels, which would make it almost the same cost as oil and natural gas.[118] A prototype ready for commercialization achieved a concentration of solar energy that was more than 1,000 times greater than standard flat panels.[119]

See also


  1. ^ "Energy Sources: Solar". Department of Energy. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  2. ^ Martin and Goswami (2005), p. 45
  3. ^ Spanish CSP Plant with Storage Produces Electricity for 24 Hours Straight
  4. ^ "Concentrated Solar Thermal Power – Now". Retrieved 19 August 2008. 
  5. ^ a b c "Concentrating Solar Power in 2001 – An IEA/SolarPACES Summary of Present Status and Future Prospects" (PDF). International Energy Agency – SolarPACES. Retrieved 2 July 2008. 
  6. ^ "UNLV Solar Site". University of Las Vegas. Retrieved 2 July 2008. 
  7. ^ "Compact CLFR". 12 June 2002. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  8. ^ "Ausra compact CLFR introducing cost-saving solar rotation features" (PDF). Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  9. ^ "An Assessment of Solar Energy Conversion Technologies and Research Opportunities" (PDF). Stanford University – Global Climate Change & Energy Project. Retrieved 2 July 2008. 
  10. ^ Perlin (1999), p. 147
  11. ^ Perlin (1999), pp. 18–20
  12. ^ "Magic Plates, Tap Sun For Power". Popular Science. June 1931. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  13. ^ Perlin (1999), p. 29
  14. ^ Perlin (1999), p. 29–30, 38
  15. ^ a b c Solar Cells and their Applications Second Edition, Lewis Fraas, Larry Partain, Wiley, 2010, ISBN 978-0-470-44633-1 , Section10.2.
  16. ^ "Trends in Photovoltaic Applications Survey report of selected IEA countries between 1992 and 2009, IEA-PVPS". Retrieved 8 November 2011. 
  17. ^ Historical Data Workbook (2013 calendar year)
  18. ^ Butti and Perlin (1981), p. 63, 77, 101
  19. ^ "The Solar Energy Book-Once More." Mother Earth News 31:16–17, Jan. 1975
  20. ^ Butti and Perlin (1981), p. 249
  21. ^ Yergin (1991), pp. 634, 653–673
  22. ^ "Chronicle of Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft". Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. Retrieved 4 November 2007. 
  23. ^ Solar: photovoltaic: Lighting Up The World retrieved 19 May 2009
  24. ^ "Photovoltaics: Overview of installed PV in 2013". Renewables International. 2014-01-14. Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  25. ^ "Solar photovoltaic roadmap". International Energy Agency. 2010. Retrieved 2014-08-18. 
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h PV (2011). World's largest photovoltaic power plants
  27. ^ "DOE Closes on Four Major Solar Projects". Renewable Energy World. 30 September 2011. 
  28. ^ Steve Leone (7 December 2011). "Billionaire Buffett Bets on Solar Energy". Renewable Energy World. 
  29. ^ "NRG Energy Completes Acquisition of 250-Megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch from SunPower". MarketWatch. 30 September 2011. 
  30. ^ "Exelon purchases 230 MW Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One from First Solar". Solar Server. 4 October 2011. 
  31. ^ Reuters (30 September 2013). "Ikea to sell solar panels in UK stores". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 October 2013. 
  32. ^ World's second largest solar PV plant now complete, Utilities ME, Apr 30, 2014
  33. ^ RPS Project Status Table - February Update
  34. ^ "Gujarat flips switch on Asia’s largest solar field, leading India’s renewable energy ambitions". Washington Post (New Delhi, India). 19 April 2012. [dead link]
  35. ^ "Real Time Data of Solar Plants in Charanka". Retrieved May 3, 2013. 
  36. ^ "Enbridge Huanghe Company: Golmud 200MW PV Station Connected to Gridm". Retrieved 6 January 2011. 
  37. ^ CCTV: China-PV Power Station
  38. ^ Samil Power: Utility Scale Projects
  39. ^ Lima Group: BV Neuhardenberg
  40. ^ "GESAMTPLANUNG Solarpark Neuhardenberg". Enfo AG. Retrieved Feb 2013. 
  41. ^ CFB News: Commerz Real Acquires Germany’s Largest Solar Park
  42. ^ EDF EN commissions a 115 MWp solar plant in the Lorraine region of France
  43. ^ Roca, Mark (December 29, 2011). "Europe’s Biggest Solar Park Completed With Russian Bank Debt". Bloomberg. Retrieved February 22, 2013. 
  44. ^ "Enbridge Inc. buys Sarnia solar farm". Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  45. ^ "Sarnia Solar Project Celebration". 7 October 2010. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  46. ^ "Good Energies, NIBC Infrastructure Partners acquire Finsterwalde II and Finsterwalde III". 26 October 2010. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  47. ^ "Implementation of the 39 MWp – "Solar Park Finsterwalde II and Finsterwalde III"" (PDF). Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  48. ^ "78 MW of the world’s largest solar photovoltaic plant connected to grid in Senftenberg, Germany". SolarServer. Retrieved 8 November 2011. 
  49. ^ "Germany Turns On World's Biggest Solar Power Project". 20 August 2009. Retrieved 8 November 2011. 
  50. ^ Choudhury, Debasish (20 August 2009). "Lieberose solar farm becomes Germany's biggest, World's second-biggest". Global Solar Technology. 
  51. ^ "SunEdison sells Europe's largest solar plant to First Reserve". 6 October 2010. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  52. ^ "First Reserve buys 70 MW solar plant from SunEdison". 6 October 2010. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  53. ^ What is peak demand?, website.
  54. ^ Abengoa Solar: Abengoa’s Solana, the US’s first large-scale solar plant with thermal energy storage system, begins commercial operation
  55. ^ SolarServer: Concentrating solar power: Solana CSP plant begins commercial operation
  56. ^ Abengoa Solar begins construction on Extremadura’s second solar concentrating solar power plant
  57. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Lokalizacion de Centrales Termosolares en Espana
  58. ^ CSP World: Abengoa closes financing and begin operation of Solaben 1 & 6 CSP plants in Spain - See more at:
  59. ^ RSS Feed for Craig Rubens Email Craig Rubens Craig Rubens (8 August 2008). "Abengoa Rakes in $426M for 4 Solar Power Plants". Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  60. ^ "Abengoa Solar begins commercial operation of Solnova 3". 24 May 2010. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  61. ^ "Abengoa Solar Reaches Total of 193 Megawatts Operating". 2 August 2010. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  62. ^ Andasol 1 has started test run. (15 October 2008). Retrieved 8 November 2011.
  63. ^ "The Construction of the Andasol Power Plants". Retrieved 8 November 2011. 
  64. ^ Solar Thermal Power Generation - A Spanish Success Story
  66. ^ VALLE 1 and VALLE 2
  67. ^ a b Renewable Energy Magazine: Abengoa-E.ON joint solar thermal electric plant comes online
  68. ^ a b Abengoa Projects in Andalucia
  69. ^ CSP World Solacor 2 comes on-line
  70. ^ Solar Photovoltaics Competing in the Energy Sector, W. Hoffman, 8th European PV Industry Summit, September 2011(Link to the document in the "presentation" section)
  71. ^ Šúri M., Huld T.A., Dunlop E.D. Ossenbrink H.A., 2007. Potential of solar electricity generation in the European Union member states and candidate countries. Solar Energy, 81, 1295–1305, [1]
  72. ^ "3rd International Conference on Solar Photovoltaic Investments". Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  73. ^ "Solar Power Services: How PPAs are Changing the PV Value Chain". 11 February 2008. Retrieved 21 May 2009. 
  74. ^ a b John Quiggin (3 January 2012). "The End of the Nuclear Renaissance". National Interest. 
  75. ^ Robert Glennon and Andrew M. Reeves, Solar Energy's Cloudy Future, 1 Ariz. J. Evtl. L. & Pol'y, 91, 106 (2010) available at
  76. ^ Mark Clifford (8 February 2012). "China’s visible solar power success". MarketWatch. 
  77. ^ Solar Energy Technologies Program pp. 52, 53 retrieved 28 March 2009
  78. ^ EERE's Consumer Guide: Siting Your Small Solar Electric System
  79. ^ Going for grid parity 2005 article
  80. ^ a b The True Cost of Solar Power retrieved 22 October 2008
  81. ^ Kelly-Detwiler, Peter. Forbes |url= missing title (help). 
  82. ^ "Gaining on the grid". BP. 
  83. ^ "The Path to Grid Parity". BP. 
  84. ^
  85. ^ Money saved by producing electricity from PV and Years for payback
  86. ^ Solar Rebate Program
  87. ^ Net Metering
  88. ^ Net Metering and Interconnection
  89. ^ China Racing Ahead of America in the Drive to Go Solar.
  90. ^ German PV market
  91. ^ Approved — Feed-in tariff in Israel.
  92. ^
  93. ^
  94. ^ a b c d Alsema, E.A.; Wild - Scholten, M.J. de; Fthenakis, V.M. Environmental impacts of PV electricity generation - a critical comparison of energy supply options ECN, September 2006; 7p. Presented at the 21st European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition, Dresden, Germany, 4–8 September 2006.
  95. ^ a b c Fridleifsson,, Ingvar B.; Bertani, Ruggero; Huenges, Ernst; Lund, John W.; Ragnarsson, Arni; Rybach, Ladislaus (11 February 2008). O. Hohmeyer and T. Trittin, ed. The possible role and contribution of geothermal energy to the mitigation of climate change (pdf). IPCC Scoping Meeting on Renewable Energy Sources. Luebeck, Germany. pp. 59–80. Retrieved 6 April 2009. 
  96. ^ Lund, John W. (June 2007). "Characteristics, Development and utilization of geothermal resources". Geo-Heat Centre Quarterly Bulletin 28 (2) (Klamath Falls, Oregon: Oregon Institute of Technology). pp. 1–9. ISSN 0276-1084. Retrieved 16 April 2009. 
  97. ^ Solar Energy Facts
  98. ^ Andrew Blakers and Klaus Weber, “The Energy Intensity of Photovoltaic Systems”, Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems, Australian National University, 2000.
  99. ^ C. Reich-Weiser, D. Dornfeld, and S. Horne. Environmental assessment and metrics for solar: Case study of solfocus solar concentrator systems. UC Berkeley: Laboratory for Manufacturing and Sustainability, 8 May 2008.
  100. ^ Joshua Pearce and Andrew Lau, “Net Energy Analysis For Sustainable Energy Production From Silicon Based Solar Cells”, Proceedings of American Society of Mechanical Engineers Solar 2002: Sunrise on the Reliable Energy Economy, editor R. Campbell-Howe, 2002.
  101. ^ CdTe PV: Real and Perceived EHS Risks
  102. ^ Edwin Cartlidge (18 November 2011). "Saving for a rainy day". Science (Vol 334). pp. 922–924. 
  103. ^ Carr (1976), p. 85
  104. ^ "PV Systems and Net Metering". Department of Energy. Archived from the original on 4 July 2008. Retrieved 31 July 2008. 
  105. ^ "Advantages of Using Molten Salt". Sandia National Laboratory. Retrieved 29 September 2007. 
  106. ^ "Pumped Hydro Storage". Electricity Storage Association. Retrieved 31 July 2008. 
  107. ^ Collings AF, Critchley C. Artificial Photosynthesis. From Basic Biology to Industrial Application. Wiley-VCH. Weinheim (2005) p. x ISBN 3-527-31090-8 doi:10.1002/3527606742.
  108. ^ Faunce TA, Lubitz W, Rutherford AW, MacFarlane D, Moore, GF, Yang P, Nocera DG, Moore TA, Gregory DH, Fukuzumi S, Yoon KB, Armstrong FA, Wasielewski MR, Styring S. ‘Energy and Environment Case for a Global Project on Artificial Photosynthesis.’ Energy and Environmental Science 2013, 6 (3), 695 - 698 DOI:10.1039/C3EE00063J (accessed 14 March 2013)
  109. ^ "Wind + sun join forces at Washington power plant". The Oregonian. 21 January 2008. Retrieved 31 January 2008. 
  110. ^ Seasonal Energy Storage in a Renewable Energy System
  111. ^ "The Combined Power Plant: the first stage in providing 100% power from renewable energy". SolarServer. January 2008. Retrieved 10 October 2008. 
  112. ^ MSU-CSET Participation Archive with notation in the Murray Ledger & Times
  113. ^ Layton, Julia (5 November 2008). "What is a luminescent solar concentrator?". Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  114. ^ Perlin and Butti (1981), p. 73
  115. ^ Halacy (1973), p. 76
  116. ^ Tritt (2008), pp. 366–368
  117. ^ Reflective mirrors seen raising solar potential, Ari Rabinovitch, Reuters, 10 August 2007 retrieved 8 February 2009
  118. ^ Zenith Solar’s Light of a Thousand Suns, Green Prophet, 17 December 2007.
  119. ^ At the Zenith of Solar Energy, Neal Sandler,BusinessWeek, 26 March 2008.


  • Butti, Ken; Perlin, John (1981). A Golden Thread (2500 Years of Solar Architecture and Technology). Van Nostrand Reinhold. ISBN 0-442-24005-8. 
  • Carr, Donald E. (1976). Energy & the Earth Machine. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-06407-7. 
  • Halacy, Daniel (1973). The Coming Age of Solar Energy. Harper and Row. ISBN 0-380-00233-7. 
  • Martin, Christopher L.; Goswami, D. Yogi (2005). Solar Energy Pocket Reference. International Solar Energy Society. ISBN 0-9771282-0-2. 
  • Mills, David (2004). "Advances in solar thermal electricity technology". Solar Energy 76 (1–3): 19–31. doi:10.1016/S0038-092X(03)00102-6. 
  • Perlin, John (1999). From Space to Earth (The Story of Solar Electricity). Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01013-2. 
  • Tritt, T.; Böttner, H.; Chen, L. (2008). "Thermoelectrics: Direct Solar Thermal Energy Conversion". MRS Bulletin 33 (4): 355–372. 
  • Yergin, Daniel (1991). The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power. Simon & Schuster. p. 885. ISBN 978-0-671-79932-8. 

Further reading