The three leading countries -- Germany, Japan and the USA -- represent almost 89% of the total worldwide PV installed capacity. Could these countries' renewable energy political decisions provide a model for the rest of the world?


Barbara Drazga |

EarthToys Renewable Energy Article
The three leading countries -- Germany, Japan and the USA -- represent almost 89% of the total worldwide PV installed capacity. Could these countries’ renewable energy political decisions provide a model for the rest of the world?
Solar Photovoltaics Market Potential
Using Germany as a Model

Barbara Drazga,

Climate change and surging oil prices are focusing attention on the use of renewable energy, of which solar is one of the most readily available. The three leading countries -- Germany, Japan and the USA -- represent almost 89% of the total worldwide PV installed capacity. Could these countries’ renewable energy political decisions provide a model for the rest of the world? 

Solar energy is the heat and light radiated from the Sun that powers Earth's climate and supports life. Solar technologies allow for contained use of this energy resource. Solar power is an equivalent word of solar energy or refers specifically to the transition of sunlight into electricity by photovoltaics, concentrating solar thermal devices and various experimental technologies. 

Solar Photovoltaics (PV) is the arena of applied science and research related to the practical application of solar cells for energy by changing sunlight directly into electrical energy. Attributable to the developing requirement for solar power, the fabrication of photovoltaic cells and photovoltaic arrays has boomed dramatically in past years. Photovoltaic output has been doubling over every two years, expanding by an average of 48 percent annually since 2002, making it the world’s fastest-growing energy technology.  

The photovoltaics industry is gaining momentum around the world, as production capacities and revenues for solar cell manufacturers tend to experience significant increases. The rapid growth of the photovoltaics sector has placed a high requirement of silicon for the manufacture of solar cells. This has led to a deficit of silicon, leading to an increase in prices of the material. The high price imposes greater pressure on manufacturers to use the materials more efficiently and reduce waste. An increase in the production efficiencies of raw wafers and solar cells is the need of the hour in the photovoltaics industry. A deficiency in the availability of silicon leads manufacturers to develop increasingly thin raw wafers of a size on the order of 200 micrometers. This thin profile makes the material more prone to breakage. This problem serves as the main driver for development of machine vision technology for the photovoltaics industry. 

At the end of 2007, according to preliminary data, cumulative global production was 12,400 megawatts. Approximately 90% of this yielding capacity comprises of grid-tied electric systems. Such installments might be ground-mounted (and occasionally incorporated with agriculture and grazing) or built into the roof or walls of a building, known as Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV). Fiscal incentives, such as advantageous feed-in tariffs for solar-generated electricity and net metering, have backed solar PV installations in numerous countries including Germany, Japan, and the United States of America 

Solar photovoltaic cells produce direct current electrical energy from light, which can be utilized to power equipment or to recharge a battery. The first practical application of photovoltaics was to power orbiting satellites and other spacecraft, but today the majority of photovoltaic modules are used for grid connected power generation.  

The most important issue with solar arrays is cost of capital (installment and materials). More novel options to standard crystalline silicon modules including casting wafers instead of sawing, thin film, concentrator modules, and continuous printing processes. Due to economies of scale solar panels get less costly as people use and buy more - as producers increase production to meet requirement, the cost and price is anticipated to fall in the years to come. 

In regions where the sun shines most of the year, it is feasible to use mirrors or Fresnel lenses to focus sunlight from a large area onto a small array of photovoltaic cells to generate electricity. This is important because photovoltaic cells are expensive, while mirrors or Fresnel tenses can be much less expensive. 

Germany was the fastest growing major PV market in the world during 2006 and 2007. In 2007, over 1.3 GWp of PV was installed. The German PV industry generates over 10,000 jobs in production, distribution and installation.  

Granted, Germany is a technological powerhouse and has contributed substantially to improving the efficiency of solar cells, but that's only part of the story. The real secret is political intervention. In 2004, borrowing a Japanese idea, the German government introduced the first large-scale "feed-in" tariff system. This assures all producers of solar-generated electricity, whether giant solar farm or home-owner, that they can sell excess power back to the grid at a premium which is guaranteed until 2024. 

This single incentive did more than anything else to kick-start Germany's solar industry and propel the country to its world-leading position. Suddenly, solar electricity made economic sense to consumers. As demand grew, so did manufacturing output. In just two years, Germany's installed capacity nearly doubled and about 300,000 small businesses and individuals set up photovoltaic systems on their roofs. Germany now has 3 gigawatts of solar capacity, equivalent to the output of at least three large fossil-fuelled power stations. 

Following in Germany's footsteps, some 20 countries - and California - have implemented feed-in tariffs. Those countries lagging behind, which include the UK and Australia, are missing not only an opportunity to improve the environment but also a commercial opening. If proof were needed that green technology can be a money-spinner, Germany provides it. 

Technology still has more to offer , but for the next few years technology alone will not be enough because solar cells are still expensive. Germany has shown that with carefully targeted pump-priming money, it can stimulate industrial growth and vanquish the cost restriction. The rule seems to be that the cost of photovoltaic cells falls by one-fifth every time manufacturing capacity doubles. With the price of oil high, the price of fossil-fuel power destined to rise as Europe's carbon-trading scheme starts to bite, and as demand for solar power inevitably rises, Germany is well set for a bright solar future. This sort of bold, creative thinking is just what the world needs if it is to beat climate change. 

Download a Free Whitepaper on Solar Photovoltaics here: 

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