Solar energy is, simply, energy provided by the sun. This energy is in the form of solar radiation, which makes the production of solar electricity possible. Solar energy is one of the most popular forms of renewable energy in the world. It has a very low environmental impact with zero carbon emissions, extremely low noise pollution and ecosystem impact, and employs mostly recyclable materials. Solar panels are becoming a commodity item to manufacture, are increasingly robust and are capable of being installed in a large variety of applications. Solar equipment provides reliable and predictable output. After installation and with minor maintenance, the only resource it needs to generate electricity is sunshine, which is unlimited and free. It has been calculated that the solar energy received by the earth in one hour, can meet the world population’s electrical energy demand for a year.
The most recognisable type of solar energy production uses photovoltaic conversion, where light is converted directly into electrical current in a solar cell. The primary material used to produce solar cells is crystalline silicon. Solar cells are collected together, commonly 60 or 72 at a time, in solar panels, which have become ubiquitous in every type of solar facility from residential rooftops to huge solar farms. The global cost of crystalline silicon has come down by over 99% since 1977, and the efficiency with which light is converted to electrical energy in these solar cells has dramatically improved. Recently, economies of scale coupled with efficiency in construction processes have also drastically reduced the cost of installing solar generation facilities. This has motivated an increasing interest in commercial solar installations, as the cost of producing electricity from sunlight is now lower than producing it from traditional fossil fuels.
As governments and energy consumers around the world learn of and appreciate the improvements in solar energy technology, higher adoption rates and regulatory support programs are expected to shape the industry. Despite some jurisdictions suffering transient periods in which political pressure causes solar energy development to slow, there is a profound global trend towards its widespread adoption.
Extreme weather events and other phenomenon in recent years have captured public attention and have made climate change and renewable energy mainstream topics. Many developed countries have committed to CO2 reduction and renewable energy development. Over the past decade, government-supported renewable energy initiatives have gained momentum and helped to achieve a critical mass, which will fuel future development. Solar and wind power are the most important renewable energy resources and their share in the total electricity production mix will be increasing for the foreseeable.