Solar PV Investments to Pay Off by 2020
4 April 2013
The global solar photovoltaic (PV) industry is making giant strides towards becoming a net energy producer and will most likely have paid off its debt of energy by 2020 at the latest, researchers at Stanford University say.
Over the last few years the solar PV industry has seen remarkable growth. The world is installing more solar than ever before and more countries are starting to use solar PV. Last year was the first time when the power generated by all PV panels installed across the globe exceed the volume of energy used for deploying new capacities, according to Michael Dale, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford's Global Climate & Energy Project (GCEP). This means that the industry is heading in the right direction, starting to produce a net energy benefit to society, he added.
Recently, Dale published research in Environmental Science & Technology magazine, outlining an innovative method for evaluating the sector's progress. According to the study's co-author Sally Benson, the industry's accomplishment is mainly a result of the decreasing amount of energy needed for producing and installing PV systems, which is forecast to decline further in the future.
Thanks to advances in energy technologies, the industry has the potential to grow at an even faster rate. Manufacturers now use thinner silicon wafers for making solar cells and reduced amounts of purified materials as silicon feedstock, and less of the expensive material is now lost in the production process.
PV panels paying back the full amount of energy going into the industry is what needs to happen to call solar PV a success, according to Dale. Since 2000 the PV industry has accumulated a substantial energy deficit, and was demanding 75% more energy than it generated just five years ago. The researchers project, however, that if the current strong growth rates are maintained, and the energy intensity of PV systems continues to fall, by 2020 the industry will need just 2% of global power to deploy new modules, contributing in turn 10% to the global energy output.