In 2016, a third less money was invested worldwide in photovoltaics than in 2015. Is the solar boom over? On the contrary: the costs are so low that the power is at least ten times.
For many years, the global solar industry had good reasons to celebrate – the investment in photovoltaics rose at a breathtaking pace. A total of 161 billion US dollars flowed into new solar plants worldwide in 2015. Two years earlier, it was only 114 billion dollars.
But this progress has now come to an abrupt end: last year, the investment volume fell by 34 percent compared to 2015. This is revealed by a study published recently by UNO’s environmental organization UNEP.
Is the high altitude flight of the photovoltaic system over? On the contrary, the financial volume has declined compared to the previous year, but the capacities that have been added have risen, and these are the most important parameter for the conversion of the energy system.
Less than three cents per kilowatt hour
Globally, in 2016 plants with a total capacity of 75 gigawatts were installed, 19 gigawatts more than in the previous year. At the top they deliver as much electricity as about 120 medium-sized coal-fired power plants.
More power for less money: The costs of photovoltaics have recently fallen dramatically. An international research group is now forecasting in science magazine “Science” that the installed solar power will be at least tenfold by 2030. The authors work for well-known research facilities such as the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) or the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
Even today, the sun is the most favorable source of power in some regions of the world. In Chile, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, for example, solar fields will be built soon, producing electricity for less than three cents per kilowatt hour. Coal and gas power plants can not keep up, nuclear reactors certainly not at all.
“In Abu Dhabi, the cost is unbelievable 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour, an amount that was expected only recently for 2025 or 2030,” says Eicke Weber, head of the Fraunhofer ISE and co-author of the “Science” contribution.
Halve production costs
Weber and his colleagues are convinced that the photovoltaic modules – the most expensive component of a solar park – still have great potential for further savings. If the costs for the modules and also the other system components fall more quickly than in the past years, the “Science” authors even consider it possible that the installed solar power 2030 will be up to 30 times larger than today. If the solar sector still solves the problem of storing solar energy, conventional power plants are hardly needed.
An acceleration of the price decline is quite realistic. With First Solar, one of the world’s largest photovoltaic companies has set itself the goal of reducing its production costs to 25 cents per watt by 2020. Other companies pursue similarly ambitious plans. Today the costs are between 40 and 55 cents depending on the manufacturer and technology.
Whether it will actually come so far depends on the one hand on the production capacities. The more plants are created and the larger they are, the more favorable the solar panels can be produced.
But this is not enough. “Volume growth must go hand in hand with the improvement of module efficiency,” says Weber. Higher efficiency causes the modules to generate more current from the incident sunlight.