Photovoltaic Panels: Solar Power

Solar Powered Devices
Solar watch, radio, calculator

Sure you’ve heard about them. Our cities use them. Many countries use them. They’re the energy source of the future. But did you know that they’re right next to you? In your desk drawers, and on your own wrist as you are reading this? As you turn to look and figure out what they are, they are increasing. They’re photovoltaic cells, and their worldwide market is bigger than it has ever been before and it’s growing.

Photovoltaic cells are the technology that converts sunlight into electricity. As the website California Solar Center ( informs us, “The term photovoltaic is derived by combining the Greek word for light, photos, with voltaic, named for Alessandro Volta, a pioneer in the study of electricity. The smallest systems power calculators and wristwatches. Larger systems provide electricity for water pumps, highway signs, communications equipment, satellites, mobile homes, medical purposes (to power medical equipment, water purifiers, and refrigerators holding vaccines), navigation buoys, streetlights, and even for lighting homes and running appliances.”

Man Installing Solar Tiling
Atlantis Energy’s
PV roof shingles

California currently has a high demand for photovoltaics. In a recent phone conversation with the North American Sales Director Joe Morrissey of Atlantis Energy, a company which is the world’s leader in integrating photovoltaics (PV’s) into tinted glass and roof shingles, he stated, “as of two months ago, California is one of the largest single markets on the planet for photovoltaic products.”

California is just one of the worldwide markets paving the way for PV’s to become a major energy source in the future. According to Mr. Morrissey, Germany and Japan are the world leaders in PV manufacturing in terms of both quality and quantity. There are strong markets for PVs in both of these countries, as well as in Switzerland. A recent study of the global PV market by Strategies Unlimited, a technology research firm, puts Europe (Germany) and Asia (Japan) as the largest markets worldwide, at 29.5% and 25%, respectively. North America trails not too far behind at 14.8%.
The Consumer Energy Center reports on its website ( that “the PV market is worth $2 million today, but is expected to grow to $10 billion by 2010.”

Cara Eisenberg, Senior Marketing Associate for BP Solar, one of the world’s largest PV manufacturers, noted some important points regarding California’s current PV market, saying, “It is looking like the market size is anywhere from 7 to 25 MW for 2001 [in California]. This strong market should continue, at least in the near future, since the energy generation capacity shortfall in California is believed to be at least 10,000 MW and there is plenty of money being committed to invest in PV.”

Ms. Eisenberg provided information about some of the government programs in California that have helped to encourage the growth of the PV market. Two of these are the Reliable Electric Services Investment Act (RESIA) starting in 2002, and the Self-Generation Incentive Program, Assembly Bill 970 approved by the CPUC in March 2001. Through the Reliable Electric Services Investment Act, $135 million per year is to be collected from ratepayers and transferred to the renewable trust fund. The Self-Generation incentive Program provides $138 Million annually for distributed generation using PV, wind turbines, fuel cells and micro turbines through 2004. An interesting fact by the Consumer Energy Center states, “A study by U.S. Department of Energy showed that, if covered with solar PV panels, the roofs of California’s city and county buildings could generate 200 megawatts of clean electricity, and school roofs covered with solar PV could add another 1,500 megawatts to the state’s peak power supply”

California Energy Production by Source

Although energy provided by PVs in California is currently less than 1% of the total energy produced, Ms. Eisenberg stressed several very important points about the potential that PVs have in the future for continuing market growth in California. First, California presents favorable conditions for PVs through state support, electricity demand, and sunshine. Second, solar energy produces the most electricity when the solar radiation is at its strongest, during the day, which is also when electricity demand is at its peak. Finally, solar generating capacity is modular, can be scaled to different sizes, and can produce energy near its consumption point, thus eliminating the costs of transmission to far away consumption areas, an important point considering the bottleneck problems which plagued California last spring.

The Consumer Energy Center reports that “according to the Department of Energy, the costs of photovoltaics have dropped 200 percent over the last three decades. Costs today range from 10 to 40 cents per kilowatt-hour.” This downward price trend, as well as the growing market for PVs in California and world, shows the tremendous potential for photovoltaic energy production both in the near future and in the long term.

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