Solar power in growing pains

The production of solar cells across the globe is experiencing unprecedented growth. In 2007 production increased by 70%, as opposed to an average of 40% in previous years. Today, the installed worldwide capacity amounts to 10 GigaWatt-peak (GWp). Although this is still only about 10% of installed wind power in the world, the other good news is that the price of solar power is still going down. In about ten years’ time, the price of solar will equal the price consumers pay for conventionally generated electricity,’ says Paul Wyers, unit manager of Solar Energy at the Energy research Center of the Netherlands (ECN). ‘Prices drop 20% with each doubling of cumulative production capacity.

Wyers estimates the generation costs of solar electricity today at fifty eurocents per kilowatt hour (kWh) in northern Europe. If the current price trend continues, the price of one kWh of solar power in northern Europe will be around 20 eurocents in 2020, equal to the average price consumers in Europe pay for electricity today. In southern Europe, where thanks to the sunny climate the efficiency of solar cells is twice as high, this break-even point will already be reached within the next few years’, says Wyers.

Kees van der Leun, board member and solar expert of the Dutch total solutions provider Econcern, says that solar energy is growing much faster than most policymakers and analysts realise. The most recent World Energy Outlook of the International Energy Agency has a solar target for 2020 which actually will already be reached next year. They doubled their target compared to a year earlier, but they are still way behind the reality.

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