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In 2014, solar accounted for fully a third of all new US generation capacity; and as shown in the figure below, residential, commercial, and (especially) utility-scale PV installations have all flourished in recent years.The world’s installed PV capacity exceeds 200 gigawatts (GW), accounting for more than 1% of global electricity generation.And what role might be played by the many other PV technologies now being developed in research labs the world over?
Between 20, total US grid-connected PV capacity grew from about 0.8 GW to 18.3 GW.
To put those numbers into context, the solar generating capacity added in 2014 is equivalent to the total capacity of several large power plants.
More than 1% of total global electricity is now provided by solar.
Within the United States, solar deployment is growing at rates significantly exceeding projections made by experts just five years ago.
The researchers’ first task was to examine their energy resource—sunlight.
To no one’s surprise, the assessment confirmed that solar energy is abundantly available and quite evenly distributed across the globe.“Solar is a much more democratic resource,” notes Jean.And the world is beginning to take advantage of it.The chart above shows annual additions to PV capacity in the United States from 2008 to 2014.Additions to utility, commercial, and residential capacity grew substantially each year, with the greatest increase occurring in the utility arena.An MIT assessment of solar energy technologies concludes that today’s widely used crystalline silicon technology is efficient and reliable and could feasibly be deployed at the large scale needed to mitigate climate change by midcentury.But novel photovoltaic (PV) technologies now being developed using specially designed nanomaterials may one day provide significant advantages.The conventional classification system—established in 2001—groups solar technologies into three “generations” based on efficiency and cost.But that scheme “may not adequately describe the modern PV technology landscape,” says Bulović, because many of the technologies—both old and new—don’t fit well into their assigned categories.Since 2008, the cost of the module has dropped by 85%, but the BOS cost hasn’t changed much at all. Silicon isn’t very good at absorbing sunlight, so a thick, brittle layer is needed to do the job, and keeping it from cracking requires mounting it on a heavy piece of glass.Today, the solar module is responsible for just one-fifth of the total cost of a residential installation and one-third of the cost of a utility-scale installation in the United States. A silicon PV module is therefore rigid and heavy—features that raise the BOS cost.