With ever-increasing energy prices and the urgent drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, more and more of us are turning to renewable energy such as solar power. The appeal is obvious; solar energy is a limitless, clean resource, which is why the solar industry has grown in recent years, and coupled with the expanding demand for clean energy, the renewable solar power business is really thriving with solar power companies starting up all over the country. In the past 15 years, the demand for solar energy alone has grown at 30 per cent a year.
Companies are making the effort to be eco-friendly, with the big name giants investing heavily in renewable sources of energy. Solar power is proving to be an economic choice; although still around seven times more costly than wind turbines, they tend to be more popular because of their size, lack of noise and simple installation.
Businesses are in fact becoming more drawn to the idea of solar power and solar cells as an investment opportunity, spurred on by the Solar America Initiative which announced a $17.6 million investment in 2008.
The Initiative hopes that with more solar power companies entering the market, and with continued research into solar cell development, photovoltaic (PV) solar power will become a big competitor as a source for commercial electricity by 2015.
With newer, cheaper solar cell manufacturers already jumping on the bandwagon, and a 30 per cent tax grant available for commercial and residential installations, more and more solar power companies and solar farms are springing up across the United States, and the world.
By far the best investment in solar power are on-grid electricity generation; using solar energy as a replacement for our diminishing supply of fossil fuels, and the nuclear energy that typically provides power for our homes in the developed world.
The world’s largest solar power installation is based in California, which holds a capacity of 354 megawatts. There are plans to build many more commercial solar plants in the US, but the largest market for solar power so far is Germany.
Most of these plants are grid-connected, applying metering laws which allow use of electricity in the evening (having been generated during the day). New Jersey currently leads the U.S. with the least restrictive net metering laws.
As for the main players, solar investors can come into the trend anywhere along the value chain, starting with polysilicon – later used to produce silicon wafers – the main ingredient in solar cells and finally modules, or panels. The panels are installed on-site and can start working immediately, lasting for at least 20 years.
Although there are vertically integrated solar power companies, most are known as “pure plays” along individual parts of the value chain, each coming into their own with contributions towards the not-yet saturated solar market.
The American Solar Energy Society (ASES) is a reputable national solar source, providing more information on developments in solar energy.