17 May 2006

The Scale of Solar Power

If we take a look at Sharp Solar with revenues of $1.5 billion last year and a 27 % market share, we can extrapolate a total market of $5.6 billion in photovoltaics for 2005. If you transform that from dollars to barrels of oil ($70/bbl) it's 80 million bbls. In other words, the solar industry has roughly the same value of a single day of world oil production. Solar power is a pretty dainty industry at the moment.

The solar cell production grew at 34 % in 2005 and 32 % in 2004 according to SolarBuzz. The annualized rate of growth in photovoltaics production has been 27 % over the past fifteen years (that's a doubling time of 2.56 years). All this growth is coming with tremendous pressure on silicon feedstock as noted by Sass Peress.

If photovoltaics keep growing at a 27 % annualized rate they'll exceed the world's annual oil revenue of today by 2028 (ignoring inflation).


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I see from your calculations that solar power is getting more cheap and effective. Many people believe solar power is unreasonable; it could be cloudy, it doesn’t produce enough energy, etc. But I think there are many advantages of using solar power, for example, Solar power is essentially infinite, so it never runs out, unlike fossil fuels. The amount of solar energy intercepted by the Earth every minute is greater than the amount of energy the world uses in fossil fuels each year.

Anonymous said...

Massive solar PV arrays could generate grid power directly in the day and also electrolyze H20 into hydrogen. The hydrogen could fuel conventional power generation at night. Thus the grid could in principle be solar powered 24/7. It really comes down to how cheaply (and efficient) PV or future photon to electron conversion devices can be made. Multi square mile arrays in the southwest deserts could power much of the country. More widely dispersed arrays can also tie into the grid and support hydrogen production. Cars and other transportation vehicles may still need oil for a while, until an efficient compact storage method for hydrogen is found. Hydrogen storage is much less of a problem when fueling conventional power plants. The storage size is not critical in that case. But the power requirements of the country could begin to transition now to solar with scalable and incremental arrays.