There have been many graphs that have illustrated, in various ways, the recent explosive growth of solar power. The graphic on this page really does a great job of showing where solar started and how very bright its future is.
This one graphic easily shows the correlation between price and total installed global solar capacity. As shown, the cost of a solar panel per watt was $101.05 in 1975. There was only a total of 2 megawatts of solar installed at that time.
Flash forward 40 years and we are now witnessing a global solar phenomenon. At the end of 2015, the cost of a solar panel per watt was as low as $0.61 and the year ended with approximately 64,892 megawatts (or 65 gigawatts) of installed solar capacity. It should be noted that the $0.61 figure is just the wholesale cost for panels and does not include installation costs, additional materials, and other fees which makes the total cost for going solar quite a few times the cost of the panels themselves.
So how is this about the future of solar power?
Well that shaded blue expansion of solar power in the past ten years represents merely the very beginnings of a massive switch to solar. The United States’ share of just approximately 25 gigawatts of solar provides just a bit more than 1 percent of the country’s total electricity needs. Obviously there’s much room for growth.
Naysayers will point to Solyndra, SunEdison’s recent bankruptcy, or the fire at the Ivanpah Concentrated Solar Plant. These are all minor blips in a much larger solar industry. No industry has been completely immune to the occasional bankruptcy story.
Any story on the future of solar power would not be complete without mentioning energy storage. A decrease in the cost of battery storage solutions will also be needed to ensure the growth of solar power in the coming decades. Energy storage capacity may even follow a similar trajectory as solar has given the expected price reductions for the energy storage industry in coming years.
The good news is that extreme price reductions in storage is not needed for solar plus storage to make good economic sense. Gradual and steady price decreases for energy storage are on the way and will be low enough in the coming years.
Without energy storage systems, solar can only provide power for about one fourth of any given day, and that’s for sunnier regions. Storage then becomes absolutely critical for solar to become a major supplier of energy.
To sum up, significant cost reductions in the solar power industry has led to an amazing growth period. All indications show that we are witnessing the start of what will prove to be a long and massive switch to solar power.