State of Solar Power Energy
The global solar energy industry has experienced significant recent growth and is forecast to continue its high-growth trajectory through 2022.
Recent Market Growth
- As of 2018, the global solar energy market reached the milestone of 405 GW.
- Notably, this represented a 29.3% or 98.9 GW increase from the prior year.
- However, this also represented a slight slowdown in the global growth rate for solar energy market, after the industry grew by 49% in 2016.
- With that said, the overall growth of the solar power energy industry has been tremendous over the past decade, with 89% of the world's global solar energy capacity being installed in just the last seven years.
China, the US and India Drive the Market
- China continues to outpace all other countries with its investments in solar energy, with the country installing 52.8 GW or 53% of all new global solar capacity in 2017.
- China's growth in solar energy was followed by the US and India, which installed an additionally 10.6 GW and 9.6 GW of capacity, respectively, during the same year.
- Meanwhile, Turkey represents the fastest growing market for solar power energy, with a growth rate of 213% between 2016 and 2017.
Strong Forecasted Growth
- Going forward, the solar power energy industry is expected to continue to expand rapidly, with industry experts estimating that global solar capacity will "triple by 2022."
- According to the World Economic Forum and International Energy Association (IEA), this growth is the equivalent of adding 70,000 new solar panels per hour.
- Consistent with recent history, China is expected to add approximately 40% of the world's new solar panels through 2022, due to both air quality goals in the region, as well as given the fact that the country currently manufactures two-thirds of solar panels worldwide.
Usage of Solar Energy in Homes
- The projected solar power energy industry for homes in many ways appears to mirror the growth and regional trends of the larger global market.
- Overall, the recent and forecasted growth in the residential segment is being driven by the falling prices of solar panels and the emergence of solar photovoltaic (PV) options.
- Notably, the market for global residential PV systems is expected to grow at a CAGR of 22% between 2018 and 2022.
- China and the rest of Asia Pacific are currently the leaders in this form of residential solar energy with 57% of the market, and are expected to remain dominant through 2022.
- Meanwhile, the US residential market for solar energy is also expanding rapidly, with six consecutive quarters of growth through the end of 2018.
- In particular, the fourth quarter of 2018 represented the largest quarter for residential solar power expansion in two years in America.
- Notably, this addition of 315,000 new solar-powered households in the fourth quarter of 2018 added to the existing two million homes in the US that already had solar technology.
Somewhat Mixed Enviromental Impact
- Meanwhile, the continued expansion of the global solar power energy industry has proven both beneficial and challenging for the environment.
- Most notably, solar power avoids the use of fossil fuels, and thereby reduces air pollution and helps slow the planet's current climate change trajectory.
- Based on the EPA's Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, the use of solar power in a US home is the equivalent of avoiding 12,500 pounds of carbon dioxide, avoiding the use of over 8,000 pounds of coal or driving approximately 18,000 miles less.
- Additionally, solar panels and PV cells don't require water to generate electricity, whereas traditional electricity uses "thousands of liters of water" per year.
- With that said, concentrating solar thermal plants (CSP) generally use between 600 and 650 gallons of water per megawatt-hour of electrical production, and are therefore less sustainable than other forms of solar power technology.
- Additionally, hazardous materials are involved in the production of many solar energy products and, unlike other forms of renewable energy, large solar installations cannot co-exist with agricultural and other land uses.
- Finally, industry experts are growing increasingly concerned over the environmental waste associated with solar power, noting that solar panel waste grew to 250 thousand metric tonnes globally as of 2016.
- Overall, it remains unclear whether solar energy will have a net positive or neutral environmental impact.