The most abundant of all energy resources
Solar energy is the most abundant of all energy resources; the rate at which solar energy is intercepted by the earth is about 15,000 times greater than the rate at which energy is consumed. Although not all countries are equally endowed with solar energy, power generation from direct solar energy is possible for almost every country. Solar energy conversion consists of a large family of different technologies capable of meeting a variety of energy service needs. For power generation, solar energy is either converted directly into electricity in a device called a photovoltaic (PV) cell, or solar thermal energy is used in a concentrating solar power (CSP) plant to produce high-temperature heat, which is then converted to electricity via a heat engine and generator. Both approaches are currently in use.
Compared to onshore wind, solar PV experienced slower levels of take-up in the early part of the 21st century. However, the industry has recently experienced tremendous growth rates and it is now the fastest growing energy generation technology.
This growth has been prompted by a steep decline in installation costs. This has significantly improved solar PV’s ability to compete with other renewable and non-renewable technologies and establish itself as one of the more cost competitive sources of power generation. Further declines in the all-in cost of utility-scale solar PV projects are expected and, combined with technological progress leading to higher efficiency ratios and lower energy losses, this has brought more projects at or closer to grid parity. In addition, as use of the technology increases, the support infrastructure will continue to grow and stabilise, lowering the development risk and hence the costs of production.
Globally, as the technology improves and the costs reduce it is expected that solar power generation will dramatically expand over the short- to medium-term.
An RTR solar plant in Italy