Burning Issues

Solar Conversion

Photovoltaics - Turning the Corner!

by Ken Zweibel, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (From Winter 95, AAFC Newsletter)

The direct conversion of sunlight into electricity by photovoltaics modules has been a losing proposition until recently... But now the industry is booming, markets are growing by 20% per year, and new technologies are about to reduce the cost of PV and open up markets that are tenfold larger than today's. Annual PV sales have reach 70 megawatts worldwide, or about $700 million dollars. US production has doubled in the last three years, and most (75%) is exported. New technologies such as thin films are becoming commercial. They are designed to drop the cost of PV to $1-$2/watt during the next five years, less than half of today's costs. Investment in thin film PV manufacturing facilities should re-double US capacity during that period. New or recently completed electrical production plants are being built by ENRON-AMOCO Solar (10 MW); ACX's Golden Photon (2 MW); Advanced PV Systems (10 MW); and United Solar (10 MW). Others have been announced but have not yet been begun. Major changes are underway in PV as costs drop and electricity-hungry markets open in developing countries worldwide.

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