What is Photovoltaic Solar Energy?
Photovoltaic solar energy (PV) is the direct conversion of sunlight into electricity. It directly exploits our largest renewable energy source.
PV boasts a broad range of technologies. These can be broadly classified as "commercial", i.e. being used in mass production, "emerging" i.e., small production volumes and "novel", i.e. concept or early laboratory stage. Commercial technologies include wafer-based crystalline silicon PV, as well as the thin-film technologies of copper indium/gallium disulfide/diselenide (CIGS), cadmium telluride (CdTe), thin-film silicon PV (amorphous and microcrystalline silicon) and high concentrating photovoltaics (multijunction technology using III-V semiconductors, e.g., GaAs and InGaP). Some organic and dye-sensitized solar PV devices have been commercialised up to now, but for the most part these remain in the novel and emerging categories.
Mono- and multicrystalline silicon wafer based photovoltaics are however currently the dominant technology on the market, with a 2015 share of over 90%. Manufacturing is principally by Asian producers. JRC estimates that EU module production capacity is currently at approximately 2 GW. Although a part of this is made up of smaller producers (typically < 100 MW) with niche products (including BIPV), there nevertheless remain some significant European players in PV manufacturing. On the other hand it is important to remember that the PV industry is more than just cell and module manufacturing. Indeed PV modules make up only 50% of the capital cost of utility scale systems, and less for residential systems. To grasp the whole picture one has to look at the full value chain, from raw materials right through to installation, operation and recycling.
The JRC produces regular updates on market and technology issues [Jaeger Waldau, 2016; Huld et al.2014; Ossenbrink et al., 2015; Corsatea et al., 2015]. Further information on photovoltaic solar energy can be found at the Strategic Energy Technologies Information System (SETIS): https://setis.ec.europa.eu/technologies/solar-photovoltaic.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy also publishes an excellent technology review that is updated every six months [Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy & PSE AG, 2015].
References A. Jaeger Waldau, Snapshot of Photovoltaics 2016, JRC 100742, 2016 T. Huld et al., Cost maps for unsubsidised PV electricity, JRC 91937, 2014 H. Ossenbrink, A. Jäger Waldau, N. Taylor, I. Pinedo Pascua , S. Szabó, Perspectives on Large-Scale Manufacturing of PV in Europe, June 2015, JRC 94724. Corsatea, T., Fiorini, A., Georgakaki, A., & Lepsa, B., 2015, Capacity Mapping: R & D investment in SET-Plan technologies Reference year 2011 (No. JRC 95364/EUR 27184 EN). JRC Science and Policy Reports. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Retrieved from https://setis.ec.europa.eu/system/files/Capacities-map-2015.pdf Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy & PSE AG, Photovoltaics Report, November 2015, https://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/de/downloads/pdf-files/aktuelles/photovoltaics-report-in-englischer-sprache.pdf