Solar Panels: The World's Fastest Growing Energy Source

Solar panel production is the “world’s fastest-growing energy source,” according to the Earth Policy Institute. Now that’s a bright thought. Kick-started by climate change concerns, electricity price worries, the hip-to-be-green consensus, and pro-solar regulations, solar PV production has been doubling every two years, growing to 3,800 megawatts in 2007, says the report.

How does that break down for geography? Well, it’s following the path that many technologies end up taking. The future leading manufacturer is China and the future leading solar consumers are (for a time) . . . us. While the top five solar PV-making countries are currently Japan, China, Germany, Taiwan, and the United States, China managed to triple its PV production in 2006, is thought to have doubled it in 2007, and is expected to take the number one solar PV-maker spot in 2008:

With more than 400 PV companies, China’s market share has exploded from 1 percent in 2003 to over 18 percent today. . . The United States, which gave the world the solar cell, has dropped from third to fifth place as a solar cell manufacturer since 2005, overtaken by China in 2006 and Taiwan in 2007.

While China is taking the lead in manufacturing, the U.S. is witnessing its own growth in domestic solar consumption. Germany, Japan, the United States, and Spain are the top 4 installation countries, but by its sheer size and wealth, the U.S. can easily move up in the ranks. In 2007 U.S. installations grew 83 percent.

And for the next couple of years, thin film solar technologies will start to shape solar PV production. Thin film is finally starting to come online — woo-hoo for Nanosolar’s landmark thin film shipping announcement.

The U.S. could use that to regain some ground in solar production with leaders First Solar and some of the young CIGS startups. The Earth Policy Institute’s report notes that solar thin film grew from 4 percent of the market in 2003 to 7 percent in 2006, and thin film is expected to make up 20 percent of the market by 2010. Though, regardless if its thin film or traditional PV panels, it’s all sunny news to us.

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