According to a new assessment by Worldwatch Institute of Washington, D.C., and Prometheus Institute of Cambridge, Mass., the solar industry is poised for a rapid decline in costs that will make it a mainstream power option in the next few years.
Worldwatch and Prometheus Institute's statistics reveal that the global production of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells has grown sixfold since 2001 – the market grew 41% in 2006 alone, the organizations say. This growth has been constrained by a shortage of manufacturing capacity for purified polysilicon – the same material that goes into semiconductor chips. But the situation will likely be reversed in the next two years, the organizations say, as more than a dozen companies in Europe, China, Japan and the U.S. plan to increase production capacity.
‘Solar energy is the world's most plentiful energy resource – the challenge has been tapping it cost-effectively and efficiently,’ says Janet Sawin, a senior researcher at Worldwatch. ‘We are now seeing two major trends that will accelerate the growth of PV: the development of advanced technologies and the emergence of China as a low-cost producer.’
In the meantime, supply shortages have led manufacturers to find ways to use polysilicon more efficiently and have accelerated the introduction of new technologies that do not rely on purified silicon and are less expensive to manufacture, Worldwatch and Prometheus Institute add.