Sun Rising as Power Source for Buildings
While solar panels currently generate a small percentage of the electricity used globally, a growing number of organizations are turning to the sun to power their facilities by installing an on-site solar photovoltaic system. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), global photovoltaic (PV) market growth has averaged 25 percent annually over the last 10 years, with worldwide growth rates for the last five years well over 35 percent.1
Solar PV power continues to face challenges. Though the gap between performance and price is closing, more work needs to be done to make high performing solar PV technology more affordable and competitive with other forms of energy generation. Promising new manufacturing techniques could reduce solar photovoltaic system costs by a factor of ten, but these systems are far less effective at converting sunlight to electricity. Other innovations have led to major improvements in efficiency, but require rare materials and complex manufacturing processes, raising costs.
Government support has also been an issue. Within the U.S., the industry has been hampered historically by dramatic shifts in government policy, favoring then disfavoring incentives and swinging the industry from growth spurt to downturn.2 The current trend, however, is positive. Germany and Japan, though not the sunniest nations, are leading the way with aggressive national incentive policies to encourage solar photovoltaic system installations.3 In the U.S., California in particular has begun to promote solar PV power heavily,4 and tax breaks and other financial incentives are increasing at both the state and national levels.5
Some of the Reasons Solar PV is Becoming More Attractive:
Climate change - In light of increasing concern over the impacts of climate change, solar PV power represents one of the cleanest sources of energy, generating no pollution, greenhouse gases or solid waste.
Energy security - Once the equipment is in place, sunshine is free to everyone. A commodity that is not controlled by or purchased from third parties provides the ultimate in energy security.
Competitiveness - Though still generally more costly than electricity purchased from a utility, solar power is rapidly becoming more cost competitive. Increasing worldwide demand for solar photovoltaic systems coupled with advances in technology are bringing the costs of solar PV power down.
Financal incentives - Tax credits, rebates and other financial incentives are increasingly available from national and local governments, utilities and other organizations to help lower the initial costs of installing a solar photovoltaic system.
New financial mechanisms - Through performance contracting, organizations can finance solar photovoltaic system installations without investing capital dollars. Improvements in the energy efficiency of lighting, HVAC systems, building envelopes, office equipment and other manufacturing processes generate savings on utility bills that can be used to cover the up-front costs associated with purchasing and installing PV solar power.
Durability - Extremely durable and easy to maintain, solar photovoltaic systems can operate and produce cost savings for 30 years or more.
Because of all these and other factors, solar PV represents one of the most promising clean energy technologies in use today, and organizations around the world are reaping the benefits of on-site solar power to meet their energy needs.
1 World Resources Institute, Solar Photovoltaics [http://www.wri.org/publication/content/8127]
2 National Geographic Society, Plugging into the Sun [http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/09/solar/johnson-text].
3 World Resources Institute, Solar Photovoltaics [http://www.wri.org/publication/content/8127].
4 State of California, Governor Schwarzenegger Announces One Million Solar Roofs by 2018 [http://gov.ca.gov/news.php?id=6939].
5 U.S. Department of Energy, Financial Incentives for Solar Energy [http://www.dsireusa.org/summarytables/finre.cfm].