Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Top 10 countries using Solar Power

Solar energy is becoming more and more popular among the grown and the growing countries. This is mainly because of government recognizing the energy problems and giving out more and more incentives for going solar, to both the general public and the corporations. The countries are starting to compete, to lead the renewable energy race in solar energy. I started wondering about which countries have the most amount of installed solar systems. So i wanted to do a top ten list of the countries which uses the most solar energy (in Mega Watts, MW) in the world. I wanted to do this in a Letterman style but i think its better to write a short note about each country pointing out its highlights and some interesting facts. So here we go counting down.....

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10) India (120 MW) - One of the countries with fastest growing solar energy industry, India makes the top ten list for the solar power users of the world. A country of billion people has a very high energy demand. Located only 8 degrees above the equator, India gets plenty of sun each year. For these obvious reasons, solar was the smart choice for India to pursue. In July 2009, India unveiled a $19 billion plan, to produce 20 Giga Watts of solar power by 2020.

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9) France (272 MW) - More than double the installed capacity of India is France. What helps france very much is their well designed Feed in Tariffs for Building Integrated PhotoVoltaic (BIPV). One important issue of concern in France is that although many MW of solar energy have been installed, a lot of them have not been connected to the grid. If this problem is resolved soon, France will be moving up on this list.

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8) China (305) - Although China gets a lot of attention these days for its renewable energy push (not surprising), its mostly in the wind sector. What we forget is that China is the biggest producer of Solar panels and this comes in no surprise that they installed a ton of it in their own country. The government has taken a vow to change cities like Linfen, Yangquan and Datong, which are the most polluted cities in China. According to China’s national energy plan, it is expected to reach a total of 20 GW by 2020. We shall wait and see if the Chinese can keep up with the growing demands.Fun fact: China has already overtaken US in the overall renewable energy investor ranking. It has become the most attractive country to invest in for wind and solar energy.

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7) Belgium (363 MW) - I would say Belgium was a surprise contender in this solar race. The Belgium government designed a well planned Feed in Tariffs. With a population of approximately 10.7 million, it has shown strong growth in its appetite for photovoltaics since the region’s government initiated its extremely appealing package deal in 2006.

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6) Czech Republic (465 MW) - This country installed the most amount of solar panels in 2009 next to Germany. There was a sudden boom in the solar market due to a generous Feed in Tarrifs by the government and local incentives. There are several US companies that are already investing in Czech solar market. 

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5) U.S (1650 MW) - Coming in at 5th place is the U.S. Solar market. I'm actually not so surprised by this result since U.S. government incentive is not very attractive and most of the major cities don't even have any policies or any plans towards going solar (one of those cities would be the fourth largest city in U.S., Houston). Most of the panels installed in U.S. are in California. The cap on the federal solar tax credit was lifted in 2009, promoting growth in this industry. Despite the recent recession, the US market for residential solar panels doubled in 2009, and increased 37% from 2008. Hopefully, we will be moving forward on this list after the economy starts to ramp up a bit.

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4) Japan (2633 MW)  - What you see above is a flexible solar technology as an AIST conference in Tokyo, Japan. Can you imagine a garden full of these solar flowers and plants on the rooftops? Government residential PV programs, net-metering, high national solar energy goals to reach 28 GW by 2020 and 53 GW by 2030. On top of this, the support of local authorities and the private sector make Japan a world leader in this field. 80% of new homes in Japan will have solar power installed with it by the year 2030. Japan is one of the fastest growing countries in the solar market and i would not be surprised if it moves up to the top position in the next few years.

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3) Spain (3386 MW) - Despite the fact that Spain was one of the countries that was hit with the economic crisis, it pushed forward on the renewable energy side to grab the third position. There was a delay in the new government subsidy programs towards the solar market in the first quarter of 2010. With expectations that both of these will improve in 2010, and considering its excellent sun irradiation and PV potential, Spain is expected to bump up its solar energy capacity again this year.

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2) Italy (4000 MW) - Every two months, Italians install more solar power than California does in an entire year. (To put that in perspective, Italy is slightly smaller in land size than California, with a fairly similar population). In the second quarter of 2010, Italy’s solar market grew by 127 percent over the previous quarter, according to research and consulting firm Solarbuzz.This success is due to a well managed FiT**, lots of government incentives, and of course plenty of sunshine. Going at this pace, I'm pretty sure that Italy has the potential to catch the top position.

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1) Germany (9785 MW) - Germany is clearly the world leader and will be the world leader for years to come. No other countries even come close to the installed solar power to this country. Above is the picture of the Gut Erlasee solar farm in Germany which produces about 14,000 MW hour annually which is enough to power a town of about 9000 residents. With cities like Sonnenschiff (which produces 4 times the energy it consumes purely from solar power), Marburg and Freiburg (entire city is powered by solar energy), it is no surprise that Germany is the world leader and it plans to stick to this position for years to come. 

My opinion - Well there you have it, the top ten countries in the world that harness solar power. I think that other countries will be following this trend and i expect more countries to join this race. The reason Germany is the leader is mainly because of the people. They clearly took solar power to their heart and made a commitment to crate a change. An energy revolution has to come from within. 

**FiT - Feed in Tariffs

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A powerful movie

I would say this movie is like Planet Earth but with a powerful message that makes you think, how much we have exploited our Earth. Now i don't know how accurate the statistics are in this movie, but the message that the movie is conveying to us is lucid. We are consuming more than our share, our demands are much higher than the available supply, and we are not aware of our actions which will lead to the imminent danger that is lurking in the near future.
What stuck me in awe was the fact that 20% of the world's population is consuming 80% of the resources. The world's richest 2% controlling the rest of the 98%. The countries with natural wealth don't have access to their own natural resources. Nearly 3 million farmers feeding 2 billion people.
I do like that this video, not only pin points the problem, but also provides a solution to this threat that we caused. If we create an awareness among people, we can work together for the common cause. We can learn from our ancestors and our mistakes. There is still hope to change our actions. Harnessing Renewable Energy is a key solution to this growing problem and that several countries are committed to change their course.

Please watch this movie called HOME and share your thoughts: HOME

If the link doesnt work, here is the actual address: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqxENMKaeCU

Monday, September 13, 2010

Personalized energy

I came across this very interesting video, which just boggled my mind. Its about personalized energy. Dr.Dan Nocera, an MIT chemistry professor has come up with this ingenious idea of artificial photosynthesis to generate your own personalized energy that will power your entire house, your electric car and all the appliances that needs to be powered from your house. Basically its what leaves do to survive, except its natural.

The Problem we have today:
In the world we live in today, the total amount of energy we use: 14 Terra Watts
By the year 2050, the total amount of energy we will use: 16 Terra Watts

The total amount of energy that is available for us to harness:
Hydro-electric - 4.6 TW
Nuclear - 8 TW
Tide/Ocean - 2 TW
Geothermal - 12TW
Biomass (crops) - 5 to 7 TW
Wind (10 m above ground) - 2 to 4 TW
Solar - 800 TW (with today's efficiency on solar cells)

His point is that even though there is all this energy available, it is simply not practical to harness all this energy to satisfy the world's energy demands.

His green solution:
Use sunlight to rearrange the chemical bonds for fuel, store the energy in high energy bonds.Take a look at his interesting presentation to understand what this is all about.

Solving our entire world's energy problem with an Olympic size pool of water!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Types & Efficiencies

Just a simple question: how efficient are today's solar cells? 
The answer to this question depends on several factors. High efficiency depends on a solar cell that can generate more electricity per incident solar power unit. Basically the solar cell's ability to produce more electricity in a given area. Theoretically speaking, to say that a solar cell has 100% efficiency means that the solar cell converts all of the sunlight it receives into electricity. Major solar panel manufacturers like Sharp, Q-Cell, First Solar, Kyocera Solar concentrate on improving the efficiency even by 1%. The more efficient, the more money that can be made.
The chart below shows the most efficient solar cells that has been developed and tested. Some of the high efficient solar cells have not been mass produced yet. 
As you can see from the above graph, the most efficient that we have gotten is about 40%. This is the absolute best that is available today.  Even though it may look like it is very inefficient, it is much better than today's commercially available solar panels, which are about 15% - 22% depending on the manufacturer. These efficiencies were measured The efficiency should be measured under real conditions and the basic parameters that need to be evaluated are the short circuit current, open circuit voltage. Just for a comparison your car runs at about 30% efficiency at best!

The efficiency highly depends on the material that the solar cells are made. The most common types of solar cells are:

Monocrystalline: These solar panels are made from a large crystal of silicon. These type of solar panels are the most efficient as in absorbing sunlight and converting it into electricity, however they are the most expensive. None the less, these are becoming more and more popular. Efficiency: 18% - 22%
Polycrystalline: These solar panels are the most common type of solar panels on the market today. They look a lot like shattered glass put together in a frame. They are slightly less efficient than the monocrystalline solar panels and less expensive to produce. Instead of one large crystal, this type of solar panel consists of multiple amounts of smaller silicon crystals. Efficiency: 15% - 18%
Amorphous (thin film): This type of solar panels consist of a thin-like film made from molten silicon that is spread directly across large plates of stainless steel or similar material. These types of solar panels have lower efficiency then the other two types of solar panels, and the cheapest to produce. Average Efficiency: 10%

It is interesting to see all the other types of materials that are being tested today....


Fun Fact: According to Encyclopedia Britannica the first genuine solar cell was built around 1883 by Charles Fritts, who used junctions formed by coating selenium (a semiconductor) with an extremely thin layer of gold.