Starting development in the 1860, solar power became throughout the years one of the most popular alternative to the conventional energy sources. The usage of photovoltaics is the most common method of conversing the energy coming from sunlight into electricity. Other methods include the usage of concentrated solar power, or a combination of the two.
While initially used only to generate electricity needed for smaller or medium-sized applications, photovoltaics became a very popular method. Solar power plants first appeared in the 1980s, and the largest commercial power plant in the world is located in the Mojave Desert in California. Throughout the years the cost for solar electricity has diminished, which resulted in the selling of millions of solar PV systems. The International Energy Agency projected that by 2050 solar PV systems would contribute to approximately 16% of the electricity consumption worldwide, and that solar would become the world’s biggest source of electricity.
As they became more and more inexpensive, many people turned to installing PV systems at their homes (specifically in developed countries). In certain cases, energy storage is optional. If needed, additional power generators exist as back-up, or you can purchase Solar batteries for your storage system, all of these allowing electrical operations at night or in case there is limited sunlight. Batteries can be made of either lead acid, lithium ion, or saltwater, the customer being free to decide on the best option for their solar panel system.
It was in the mid-1990s that the development of PV systems began to accelerate rapidly, because of a variety of reasons, including concerns for global warming, and supply issues with natural gas and oil, among others. Currently, the number of countries and regions where the usage of solar power is growing includes places such as Australia, India, South Africa, and the United States, among many others. On a worldwide level, the usage of photovoltaics has averaged a 40% growth per year from the year 2000 to 2013, China being the country with the most cumulative installations.
For many years (from 1954 to 1996), the United States was the leading country in the number of installed photovoltaics, the total capacity amounting to 77 megawatts. However, the leading position shifted to Japan until 2005, then to Germany until 2015. In 2015, China took over the role of biggest producer of photovoltaic power in the world. In the coming decade, China is expected to continue to be the leader, and have the largest market alongside the U.S. and India
While the costs for installing solar panels could sound intimidating at first – due to the cost of wiring, labor, modules, maintenance, etc. – the cost per watt could make any skeptic interested in solar power. In the mid-1970s the price per watt (adjusted for inflation) was $96. However, by 2016, due to the large boost in production and process improvements, the cost was 68 cents per watt. Additionally, modules can last for up to 40 years, which means they represent a relatively safe long-term investment.