In this blog, you will learn about:
- The advent of solar energy
- Types of Solar panels
- Raw material in demand – photovoltaic cells, silicon, solar cell, solar inverter
- Global demand and supply of solar panels
- Scope and future of solar energy
The turn of the century brought with it numerous advancements, most of them technological, that helped humankind to achieve new milestones with every passing year. However, with each passing year, as our dependency on technology increased, our desire for more started decimating the earth’s natural resources. The use of fossil fuels for energy has had severe consequences, from alarmingly elevated carbon emissions to rise in global warming, eventually uniting 196 nations to sign the famous Paris accord, aimed to limit global warming to below 2 (preferably 1.5) degrees Celsius.
Since the impact of fossil fuel energy production contributed to extremely high carbon emissions, governments the world over began their quest for a cleaner alternative. This is when the concept of solar energy became main stream. After the successful launches of satellites that operated and thrived on solar energy, America made the next big statement when its then President Jimmy Carter had solar panels installed all over the roof of White House to spread awareness about this clean energy source.
Types of solar panels, technology and their application
Solar energy applications and benefits have started to make headlines across the globe in the recent years. The soaring demand for solar power has encouraged research and development of solar technologies.
Solar technologies basically convert sunlight into electrical energy either through photovoltaic panels or through mirrors that concentrate solar radiation. This energy then is used to generate either electricity or stored in batteries or in thermal storage.
There are two main types of solar energy technologies—photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP).
A photovoltaic (PV) cell, also known as a solar cell, is an electronic component that generates electricity when exposed to sunlight. Photovoltaic cells are connected electrically, and in organized form into a large frame, called a solar panel. The demand for photovoltaic solar panels and photovoltaic cells has increased manifolds in the past few years with global buyers lining up for high quality solar panels
Understandably, with high demand, the production and supply of photovoltaic panels has made its way to manufacturing units worldwide, with Chinese and Indian suppliers taking the lead to form an efficient supply chain.
There are three major types of solar PV panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film. Each type has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.
|Solar PV Panel Type||Advantages||Disadvantages|
|Monocrystalline||High efficiency and performance||Higher cost|
|Polycrystalline||Lower cost||Lower efficiency and performance|
|Thin film||Portable and flexible||Lower efficiency and performance|
The PV cell is made out of semiconductor materials that convert light into electricity. Silicon is a common material used as a semiconductor during the solar cell manufacturing process.
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Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels have cells made of silicon wafers.
However, unlike monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels, thin-film panels are made from a variety of materials such as cadmium telluride (CdTe), amorphous silicon (a-Si)( non-crystalline silicon).
Each type of solar panel differs in the amount of power it can generate. Of all panel types, monocrystalline panels have the highest efficiency and power capacity. Monocrystalline solar panels have efficiencies higher than 20 %, while polycrystalline solar panels usually have efficiencies between 15 to 17%. Thin-film solar panels tend to have lower efficiencies and power capacities compared to monocrystalline or polycrystalline varieties. The efficiencies of Thin-film vary based on the specific material used in the cells, but they usually have efficiencies closer to 11%.
Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power:
The Concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) system uses mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers and converts it into thermal energy. The thermal energy is then used to create steam to drive a turbine to produce electrical energy. It is primarily used in a variety of industrial applications like water desalination, enhanced oil recovery, food processing, chemical production, mineral processing and others.
There are three main types of CSP: parabolic trough, power tower and dish sterling engine systems. Being the most common form of CSP, the trough system concentrates sun’s energy using long rectangular, parabolic mirror collectors. The mirrors concentrate sunlight on receiver tubes and the synthetic fluid in the tubes heats up and go through a conventional steam generator, which then generates electricity. The dish/engine system uses a mirrored dish similar to a very large satellite dish, either a singular dish-shaped parabolic mirror or multiple parabolic disc mirrors to reflect and works by compressing the fluid heated by the receiver to move pistons and create mechanical power. The mechanical power is then used to run a generator to produce electricity. The third version, the power tower system uses heliostats which concentrate sunlight onto a receiver on the top of a tower. A heat-transfer fluid, inside the storage tanks below the receiver, gets heated; it is then used to generate steam, which in turn produces electricity.
Demand for solar panels, parts across the globe, major markets, exporters, importers, production hubs
The global demand for electricity has witnessed a significant growth due to economic development and an increase in population. The improving standard of living and infrastructure development is generating a huge demand for electricity generation. Also, due to environmental regulations, several companies are switching to renewable energy such as solar power. Now, many countries are focusing on eco-friendly power generation solutions as an endeavour to reduce carbon emissions. It is low-cost renewable energy, thus many countries are investing heavily in solar energy. Solar energy is not only renewable, but also inexhaustible, clean, and pure and the most affordable form of energy. Some of the major applications of solar energy include solar water heating, solar heating of buildings, solar distillation, solar pumping, solar drying of agricultural and animal products, solar furnaces, solar cooking, solar electric power generation, solar thermal power production and solar green houses.
As per Fortune Business insights, the solar power market is expected to grow from USD 184.03 billion in 2021 to USD 293.18 billion in 2028 at a CAGR of 6.9% in the 2021-2028 cycle. Even government policies such as FiT, investment tax credit and capital subsidies are playing a key role in boosting solar installations.
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Asia pacific with a market evaluation of USD 80.6 billion in 2020 is expected to dominate the global market this decade. Currently, Europe is dominating the solar energy market owing to the solar policies and rising demand of solar panel installations across UK, Germany and Spain.
The top five countries of the world producing solar power are China, the United States, India, Japan and Germany. However, a brief overview suggests that all these producing countries are making enough to meet the domestic demand, but only China and the US have been able to export solar panels for profit.
China is not only decreasing pollution levels that were marring the country’s health and wellbeing, but is also able to sell the solar panels, solar inverters, solar chargers at higher prices in the international market, which gives India the advantage to provide cheaper and efficient alternatives to its own biggest market – the USA.
Government incentives are going to play a big role in the usage of solar energy. Since the use of electric vehicles, another expensive alternative to IC engine, has been encouraged by European governments with great subsidies, incentives and grants, it is predicted that the widespread use of solar energy by installing solar panels at home as well as in commercial areas will only increase the demand for solar panels. Extensive use of solar generators, solar air conditioners, solar geysers, solar heaters and other solar powered devices has opened up the European market to anyone who has the resources and the technology to provide top notch products. China continues to fulfil the raw material demand but the surprising demand in Asian sector, particularly in APAC nations including Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Taiwan have boosted the market potential for solar energy expansion.
Since India, China’s major importer of solar panels is working as an intermediary between trade war-affected China and USA, it is also compelled to improve the technological prowess to provide finished product to USA and other markets by developing more and more solar power plants. The future for Indian companies delving in solar panels production is bright and with UAE, South Africa and Canada as its other are its major markets, India is bound to lead the way in solar energy production, indirectly, if not through ubiquitous domestic consumption.
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Future of solar energy
The future of global energy production and consumption will rest primarily on solar energy by 2030. While solar energy is expensive currently, technological advancements, replacements to costly raw materials including silver and silicon will ensure the costs come down remarkably, allowing it to go main stream.
The electric/hybrid revolution in the automobile industry is also going to be heavily supported by solar energy applications. The industry takeover by electric/hybrid vehicles in addition to solar cars will witness a revolution through the application of a concept that was imagined decades ago.
South Asian and Asia Pacific nations like India and Australia that rank high on the World Sunlight map will not only have the privilege but also the responsibility to shift dependence from fossil fuel to solar energy.
In the end, nations that were brought together by the historic Paris Agreement in 2015 will fulfil their promise to the planet with the aid from our very own star, the Sun.