Feature Report: Photovoltaic Solar Power Is Booming

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The Growth of Photovoltaic Solar Power Around the World

Alongside wind, photovoltaic solar power is the fastest developing energy source worldwide. But it’s going to need to pick up speed to achieve the “carbon neutrality” objective by 2050, which means no more CO2 emissions than the planet can absorb. To get there, more gigantic photovoltaic farms need to be installed and more building-integrated systems added to parking lot canopies, public buildings and people’s homes.

fr- Le solaire dans le mix énergétique mondial
The rooftop solar array on the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, in the United States. © SUNPOWER CORP

x 7: photovoltaic power production needs to be increased sevenfold in 10 years if climate objectives are to be met.

How can we measure the challenge ahead?

A photovoltaic panel directly produces electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor... when it is exposed to sunlight. Global photovoltaic electricity production reached 1,000 terawatt-hours (TWh)1 in 2021. The International Energy Agency, who has drawn up ‘scenarios’ to achieve long-term carbon neutrality, estimates that the contribution from solar energy should reach 6,970 Twh in 2030, which basically means that we have to multiply our current performance in photovoltaic solar powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... by seven in the space of 10 years2.

What is the share of solar power in the global electricity mix?

To reduce the contribution from fossil fuels (coalCoal is ranked by its degree of transformation or maturity, increasing in carbon content from... , oil, gas) that are finite and generate more pollution, “green” electricity needs to gain ground in our daily lives, in particular for heating and transportation. Yet the share of renewables or carbon-free energies is still very low. In 2020, solar energy produced just over 3% of electricity worldwide, which in figures gives  855 TWh, behind wind (1,600 TWh), nuclear (2,700 TWh) and hydraulic energy from large dams (4,300 TWh).

Did you know? China is the world’s biggest photovoltaic power producer.

Which countries are blazing the trail?

The world’s biggest coal consumer, China (with a population of 1.4 billion) is also the country where solar power and other renewables are developing the fastest, to cope with its gargantuan energy demands. It represents 30% of total global PV electricity production, and in 2021, counted for three quarters of world progress in this sector. Thanks to Germany, Europe was a pioneer in photovoltaic solar energyEnergy produced by the photovoltaic effect. and stands for 20% of world production, Germany producing half this contribution ahead of Italy, Spain and - much further behind - France. The United States are also driving growth in the renewables sector with 16% of global production dedicated to photovoltaic energy. Owing to its abundant subsurface resources, the United States is also one of the biggest producers of fossil fuels. 

What is the outlook for global development?

Photovoltaic solar power has great advantages to boost its robust growth. Successive waves of technological advances help improve the efficiency3 of photovoltaic cells. The predominant solar cell category is based on siliconSilicon crystals come from silica, the main compound in quartz and sand. Silicon is a semi-conducting material. , the second most abundant element on Earth. In these conditions the cost of the electricity produced by solar cells decreases as the sector develops.  Since 1976, production costs have decreased by 24% on average whenever the world production capacity doubled.


Sources :

(1) 1 TWh = 1 billion kilowatt-hours. One kWh is approximately the quantity of electricity used by an iron in one hour.

(2) Read the IEAAn independent, intergovernmental organization founded within the framework of the OECD... analysis: www.iea.org/fuels-and-technologies/solar

(3) The efficiency is the ratioIn mathematics, the relationship between two numbers (the ratio of x to y is equal to x/y). Often expressed as a percentage... of the electrical energy produced to the light energy that falls on the panel.