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The Photovoltaic Revolution: A Global Leap from Megawatts to Terawatts in Climate Protection

2023-10-25

The Photovoltaic Revolution: A Global Leap from Megawatts to Terawatts in Climate Protection

Solar energy is the fastest-growing and most sustainable energy source worldwide. Currently, global growth rates in solar energy are still in the gigawatt range. In the past year of 2022, approximately 191 GW were added, representing an increase of around 50 percent compared to the previous year, with Europe seeing an increase of about 47 percent. Due to increasingly efficient modules and falling prices, it is expected that the annual growth will soon surpass the terawatt threshold. This is excellent news for the desired energy transition, gaining additional significance with the simultaneous development of battery storage. The number of new battery installations in Germany alone reached around 250,000 in the first half of 2023, including installations for both private and commercial use. The photovoltaic revolution for climate protection is well underway, and the future undeniably belongs to renewable energies.

The Development of Photovoltaics: From Origins to Global Significance

The current boom in photovoltaics is driven, among other things, by the necessity of preserving the planet through sustainable energies. This has led and continues to lead to technical innovations in photovoltaics, as well as legal changes and incentives that make the installation of solar systems attractive for both individuals and businesses.

The history of photovoltaics dates back to 1839 when the French physicist Alexandre Edmond Bequerel demonstrated the photoelectric effect. However, it took over a hundred years to practically convert this discovery into electricity generation. After much deliberation and research, a functional solar cell of 2 square centimeters with an efficiency of 2 percent was finally produced in 1953 and presented to the public in 1954. In 1958, the United States launched a satellite into orbit powered by solar cells.

The interest in solar energy on Earth was sparked by the 1974 oil crisis. Until then, photovoltaics played a very minor role, limited to the installation of small island systems and use in space exploration. It was only in the mid-1970s that the production of solar systems on Earth exceeded the level of solar systems for space exploration. The business with solar systems slowly gained momentum in the early 1980s, and since the early 1990s, the curve of installed photovoltaic systems worldwide has been rising exponentially. In essence, the curve has been increasing since the mid-1950s, but the magnitudes were then still very small.

Technological Breakthroughs: Paving the Way for the Terawatt Era in PV Technology

The development of PV technology has increased significantly in recent years, making current products affordable, modular, and readily available everywhere. Historically, there is no technology that has grown as rapidly as PV technology. However, the solar industry faces challenges alongside opportunities. Opportunities include the goal of being able to contribute a significant portion of the energy supply through solar energy. Challenges include global understanding and collaboration, the removal of bureaucratic hurdles, and much more. In 2022, the globally installed capacity exceeded the terawatt mark for the first time, and it is expected that the second terawatt will be reached in just a few years. Analysts even anticipate that the annual production will reach approximately one terawatt by no later than 2030.

The Impact of Photovoltaics on Global Climate Protection

The impact of photovoltaics on global climate cannot be overstated. The equation is very simple: every ton of CO2 saved by avoiding the use of fossil fuels contributes to global climate protection. The effects of climate change will increase every year, with melting glaciers, significantly rising temperatures, annual new heat records, droughts – even in Europe – and floods observed for several years. Now it is about preventing a worsening of the situation by avoiding CO2, and there is no doubt that the so-called energy transition will not work without photovoltaics. The Fraunhofer Institute has calculated that approximately 24 million tons of CO2 could be saved through the use of solar power in 2017.

Future of Photovoltaics: Challenges and Opportunities in the Terawatt Era

Critics often refer to energy from non-fossil fuels as "intermittent power" because both wind and sun are unpredictable and not easily planned. In our latitudes, the sun barely shines in winter, and throughout the year, there are days when neither the sun shines properly nor is there wind. The solution to this issue is energy storage. It is frequently argued that energy storage is too expensive and not sufficiently powerful. However, intensive research and development work is being carried out in both the solar module and energy storage sectors. Thus, it can be said that critics are currently correct in some areas, but they overlook that the world keeps turning, and the mentioned products are becoming increasingly better concerning their performance, price, and compatibility with other concepts. It is not only about the quantity of products but also about their quality.

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