In case you haven’t heard, there’s a quiet solar revolution going on around the world. Solar power has actually been growing exponentially for a couple of decades, but when overall numbers are low, it’s easy for most people unfamiliar with the solar industry not to notice the exponential trend.
Solarbuzz has calculated that in 2005 the world had just 5 gigawatts of solar photovoltaics (solar panels) installed, and its forecast to the end of 2014 is almost 200 gigawatts. As I said, solar panels have been around for a lot longer than 2005, and growing exponentially, but it took quite a long time to get to that 5 gigawatt mark. However, if solar keeps growing exponentially, and there’s absolutely no reason to think it won’t, the numbers will keep doubling rapidly from here, which could amount to a very significant amount of the world’s power in a lot less time than most people think.
In more good news, as is often the case with exponentially growing technologies, at the same time the scale has been increasing rapidly, the price has been plummeting, which of course fuels widespread adoption. As Michael Graham Richard has pointed out, the following graph from the US DoE shows just how quickly solar module costs have been dropping in recent years.
Even though the capacity of solar power is still low in comparison to overall world electricity generation, there are signs solar is already starting to disrupt the status quo. Giant British bank Barclays has recently calculated that the traditional utility sector in the United States faces some big challenges from the fast-growing renewable energy sector, and from solar in particular. It expects as much as 20% of US electricity consumers will be able to have access to solar with included energy storage, that will be as cheap or cheaper than utility power with 4 years.