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Market Snapshot: Trends in Solar Energy

The amount of electricity generated by solar energy in the U.S. is increasing. In 2010 less than 0.1% of electricity generation came from solar energy – in 2020 this has increased to nearly 3%. In some states, solar accounts for approximately 20% of all electricity generated. Additionally, the cost of solar electricity is decreasing due to global economies of scale, technology innovation, and greater confidence in PV technology.

This growth is not only being seen in traditional installations but is also making inroads in nontraditional applications. From space travel to drones and vehicles, solar energy is an exciting field. In BCC Research’s coverage of the solar energy market, it reports that the global market for solar power technologies should grow from $143.3 billion in 2018 to $286.3 billion by 2023 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.9% during the forecast period of 2018-2023. BCC Research published a report covering space-based solar power (SSP) – space is among the new frontiers for solar power, and SSP is expected to play an important role in the future of power generation given its seemingly limitless potential. While certain challenges and limitations exist for SSP, including transporting the solar panels to space, other innovations are helping to overcome these challenges. For example, the development of reusable rockets is expected to enable the development of space-based solar power and help meet Earth-based energy needs.

Solar power innovations mostly occur in two technology areas, solar photovoltaics (PV) and Concentrated Solar Power (CSP). Solar cells are also referred to as photovoltaic cells and convert sunlight directly into electricity. BCC Research reports that the global market for alternative solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies should grow from $1.9 billion in 2018 to nearly $2.3 billion by 2023 with a CAGR of 3.6% for the period of 2018-2023. Some of the key technologies in this area include key technologies like CIS/CIGS, CdTe, a-Si, DSSC and OPV, and more. The largest PV systems in the country are located in California and produce power for utilities to distribute to their customers. The Solar Star PV power station produces 579 megawatts of electricity, while the Topaz Solar Farm and Desert Sunlight Solar Farm each produce 550 megawatts.

MarketsandMarkets provides coverage of many different solar energy technologies, including solar vehicles, solar lighting, Concentrating Solar Power (CSP), different solar materials, and more. Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) is achieved when solar energy is collected using mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto receivers and convert this energy into heat, which may be used to produce electricity using a steam turbine or heat engine driving a generator. The global CSP market is projected to reach $7.6 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 16.4%, from an estimated $3.5 billion in 2020. Market drivers include: environmental concerns over carbon emissions; efforts to reduce air pollution; including policy support from governments for renewable technologies; and the integrability of CSP systems with thermal storage systems. Furthermore, hybrid power plants use two or more technologies and may include oil, natural gas, biomass, hydropower, geothermal power, storage, solar CSP, solar PV, wind turbines, coal, or nuclear power to generate electricity or any other products, such as hydrogen. CSP offers the potential for hybridization with different energy sources ranging from conventional fossil fuels to biomass and other concentrating solar power or other renewable combinations.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has been at the forefront of solar energy technology development. Its Solar Energy Technologies Office provides valuable resources and information on this renewable energy source. However, interest in solar energy extends beyond DOE. The Department of Defense (DoD) and NASA are also on the cutting edge of solar energy technology and development. NREL is partnering with both DoD and NASA on a variety of projects. Through the continued exploration of novel application areas, it appears that the sky, and beyond, is the limit for solar energy.