Originally published on Sustainnovate.
By Henry Lindon
Solar energy has been in a bit of a boom phase as of late (one that will arguably continue for a long while). Why exactly, one might ask, has the technology been finding more and more of a foothold in the global marketplace? Well, the graph above (courtesy of the Earth Policy Institute/Bloomberg) puts it more succinctly than I could, so have a gander.
That really says quite a lot, doesn’t it? Solar energy technology has been on quite a journey as of late, and seems set to continue to do so for at least another decade or so. (Diminishing returns on research investment will likely begin to hit in a significant way by that point, in my opinion.)
As one can see, the price of solar photovoltaic (PV) was near $100 per watt back in 1975, and total global installations totaled only around 2 megawatts (MW). Things have changed quite a bit since then, with the price per watt in 2015 being around 61¢, and total global installations totaling around 65,000 MW (65 gigawatts). I don’t know what’s a more astounding way to look at it: with the chart or just the numbers.
Of course, the cost of the promising technology fell rapidly right from 1975, but global solar installations – the blue bit – barely registered until that magic moment somewhere between 2000 and 2005, when price per watt reached a tipping point and the blue bit quickly soared to a total of just under 65,000 MW in 2015.
As TreeHugger’s Michael Graham Richard notes, “the beauty of having exponential growth on your side is that very quickly, even the current blue spike will look tiny. In 2020 or 2030 we’ll look back on 2015 and it’ll barely register as the beginning of the curve on the chart.”