Solar photovoltaic (PV) is a technology that converts light to electricity. The PV effect was discovered in 1839 by nineteen-year-old French physicist Alexandre Becquerel. Solar PV was first industrially used to power satellites, in the late 1950’s, and are still used on spacecrafts nowadays! Yields are continuously increasing but the basic technology stays the same: very robust and reliable, to the point that PV modules manufacturers warrantee the performance of their panels for 25 years.
Solar energy is abundantly available, the Earth receives enough solar energy every hour to meet the world’s annual energy needs! Since the beginning of the 21st century, the solar PV market has grown very fast, to reach, in 2013 a newly installed capacity of 38,4 GW representing a market of more than 90 billion U.S. dollars. Solar PV has become a mainstream source of electricity generation.
A competitive and secure source of electricity
According to the International Energy Agency, the price of solar systems has been divided by three in six years while module prices have been divided by five in most markets; They estimate the cost of of solar electricity could decrease by another 65% by 2050.
Thanks to those price decreases, solar has become a cost-effective and increasingly competitive source of energy, especially in countries of the sun-belt like South Africa.
As it entails no fuel price risk or constraints, it also improves security of supply. Solar power enhances energy diversity and hedges against price volatility of fossil fuels, thus stabilizing costs of electricity generation in the long term.
A green energy
Photovoltaic (PV) systems have a very low carbon footprint with no greenhouse gas emissions during operation and they do not emit other pollutants. In the context of climate change, it thus provides significant environmental benefits compared to traditional fossil-fuel or nuclear technologies. PV is therefore one of the most obvious sources of electricity when considering the development of a low carbon economy.
The energy payback time (EPBT) of photovoltaic (PV) systems is the amount of time a PV system has to operate in order to compensate for the energy required to fabricate the system itself. According to Epia, depending on the type of PV system and the location of the installation, the EPBT at present is between 0.5 and 1.4 years.
The technical lifetime of PV systems is 30+ years; hence they produce net clean electricity for more than 95% of their lifetime.
A contributer to local economies and job creation
A large part of the value of PV systems is created locally, regardless of where the cells have been made and modules have been assembled. This economic value is over and above the other benefits PV brings, most notably reduction/substition of energy imports, environmental protection and climate change mitigation.
According to Epia, the PV industry directly employs about 435,000 people worldwide. Supporting these direct jobs are about one million indirect full time employment (FTE) Jobs. About 50% of these direct and indirect jobs (700,000) are related to the installation, maintenance and recycling of PV system, which are jobs created locally.