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Europe Boasts of its Solar Power Strength

• September 07, 2010 • 10:03 AM

As it’s announced that thee-quarters of new photovoltaic systems are going up in Europe, it’s fair to ask what happened to the former U.S. dominance in solar.

The European Union’s Joint Research Centre reports that photovoltaic modules installed globally in 2009 had a capacity to generate more than 7 gigawatts of electricity — the equivalent of about seven nuclear power plants. Out of these, almost 6 gigawatts were installed in Europe. This means that 75 percent of the world’s photovoltaic systems went up in Europe alone during last year. The cumulative installed PV capacity in the world comes to 22 gigawatts, with 70 percent being European.

The United States, though enjoying far more sunshine and being the birthplace of modern photovoltaics, lags dreadfully behind, having a mere 1.6 gigawatts installed over the years. One key reason — government support remains limp compared to incentives in Europe.

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Editor’s Note

Our John Perlin is attending the 25th annual European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference in Valencia, Spain. He will be providing updates throughout the meeting. Check back with our By the Way blog to see more reports from this conference.[/class]

Germany remains the world leader with more than 50 percent of the overall world photovoltaic capacity. Spain ranks second. It’s not the sunshine that stimulates this leadership; it’s government commitment.

Meanwhile, when it comes to production of solar cells, China comes out the clear leader, producing 4.4 gigawatts. Europe came in second and Taiwan third. America once produced all the solar cells in the world. But starting during the Reagan administration and continuing under subsequent presidents, the U.S. surrendered its leadership role in photovoltaics and continues to trail.

 

 

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John Perlin
An international expert on solar energy and forestry, John Perlin has lectured extensively on these topics in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Perlin is the author of A Forest Journey: The Story of Wood and Civilization as well as From Space to Earth: The Story of Solar Electricity. Perlin mentors those involved in realizing photovoltaic, solar hot-water, and energy-efficiency technologies at the University of California-Santa Barbara, and coordinates the California Space Grant Consortium as a member of UCSB’s department of physics.

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