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Solar energy is the fastest growing of all renewable energy technologies. The number of emerging market “sunbelt” countries with strong solar radiation that are making greater use of solar energy is growing due to falling prices of solar technology and other market drivers. Emerging market countries will require a massive volume of new investment in the coming decades to meet basic energy needs. Development of solar energy resources is expected to play a more prominent role in key emerging market countries such as: China, India, Chile, Brazil and Mexico. Capital mobilized from the private sector will be critical to help meet these energy needs. Demand for investment in solar energy technology, both as a necessity for addressing energy shortages and as a more environmentally-friendly solution, is growing rapidly.
Despite stresses caused by the recent global financial crisis and the Eurozone sovereign debt and banking crisis, renewable energy continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. This is driven by various factors including: energy security concerns, fossil fuel prices, regulatory and policy frameworks, strategic corporate initiatives and environmental concerns, particularly over climate change. Renewable power generation includes traditional biomass, large hydro and ‘new renewables’ (small hydro, wind, geothermal, modern biomass, biofuels and solar).
According to the latest REN21 Renewables 2012: Global Status Report, about US$257bn was invested in renewable energy technologies in 2011 (including large hydro projects), a 17% increase over 2010. This is a six fold increase over 2004 and 94% higher than in 2007. The recent companion UNEP publication Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2012 says total investment in solar power in 2011 jumped 52% to US$147bn.
Recently, solar photovoltaic technology has seen a rapid deployment globally, scaling up from 23 GW in 2009 to 70 GW by the end of 2011. In 2011, annual growth in solar photovoltaic markets was nearly 70%. By way of comparison, total renewable energy capacity, 75% of which is hydro, still only comprises about 20% of total global installed electricity generating capacity (and even less in terms of actual annual electricity production).
To date, nearly 80% of solar photovoltaic installations globally have been in Europe. But as is generally the case for all renewable energy technologies, emerging market countries are beginning to play a larger role in global deployment patterns.
China, which now accounts for more than 50% of global solar manufacturing capacity, recently announced a new national target to install 21 GW by 2015, following two upward revisions in 2011.
When China announced a feed-in tariff in July 2011, more than 2.5 GW of solar was installed through the end of December, allowing cumulative installed solar capacity to exceed 3 GW.
In 2012 there are projections that China may install between 5 GW–10 GW. India, which has a national solar target of 20 GW by 2020, has nearly reached 1 GW in installed capacity. Many observers believe the country will double this target once the local solar market reaches its stride as solar developers proliferate and local EPC capability matures.
India has set ambitious targets for solar power via the National Solar Mission as well as state government backed solar policies that are on top of the National Mission; Indian policies include government-backed PPAs (power purchase agreements); in addition, the National Solar Mission and state government policies have been designed to push the private sector to develop new solar and other renewable energy projects by implementing RPO (renewable purchase obligations) that require big electricity users to achieve a certain minimum amount of electricity usage via renewables or face fines (or buy renewable energy credits on established stock exchanges from companies who have exceeded their minimum targets – much like the acid-rain emissions trading system in the US/Canada that has successfully delivered 50% reductions in sulphur dioxide and other pollutants since the 1980s). The RPO standards act as a push for companies to adopt solar pv and other renewables (high grid prices mentioned above act as a pull). In India you will find many well recognized global companies and big domestic companies that are seeking to incorporate solar pv by setting up power plants on land adjacent to their operations or on the rooftops of their warehouses, offices and other complexes, something which you do not observe to the same degree in the US.
Other emerging market countries are also poised for rapid growth. Thailand has a pipeline of more than 1 GW of projects and has ramped-up its installed capacity to nearly 200 megawatts (MW).
The Philippines is planning to issue a feed-in tariff for solar projects. More than 600 MW of solar was tendered in the first round of South Africa’s REIPP program. Chile has nearly 3.5 GW of solar projects either cleared or undergoing clearance by its environmental agency.
Brazil has issued a new net-metering regulation and analysts expect the market to grow rapidly. Mexico plans a new renewable energy portfolio standard and solar developers are increasingly active. Saudi Arabia recently announced a new national target of 16 GW by 2030.
Across the “Sunbelt” in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East, insolation levels are significantly higher than in Europe and North America.
Demand for solar deployment is also likely to intensify, particularly with falling solar module costs and more countries reaching grid parity pricing for solar. In isolated mini-grids powered by diesel and other off-grid settings including telecom towers, solar is now significantly cheaper and the diesel displacement market is growing.
The sun’s heat and light provide an abundant source of energy that can be harnessed in many ways. There are a variety of technologies that have been developed to take advantage of solar energy. These include concentrating solar power systems, passive solar heating and day lighting, photovoltaic systems, solar hot water, and solar process heat and space heating and cooling.
Solar power can be used in both large-scale applications and in smaller systems for the home. Businesses and industry can diversify their energy sources, improve efficiency, and save money by choosing solar technologies for heating and cooling, industrial processes, electricity, and water heating. Homeowners can also use solar technologies for heating and cooling and water heating, and may even be able to produce enough electricity to operate “off-grid” or to sell the extra electricity to the utilities, depending on local programs. The use of passive solar heating and day lighting design strategies can help both homes and commercial buildings operate more efficiently and make them more pleasant and comfortable places in which to live and work.
Beyond these localized uses of solar power, utilities and power plants are also taking advantage of the sun’s abundant energy resource and offering the benefits to their customers. Utility-scale solar energy systems allow power plants to produce electricity from the sun on a larger scale, which in turn allows consumers to take advantage of solar power without making the investment in personal solar technology systems.
Solar power technologies, from individual home systems to large-scale solar power systems, have the potential to help meet growing energy needs and provide diversity and reliability in energy supplies.