Photovoltaics - Quick Facts

Key Facts

         PV modules covering 0.3% of the land in the United States, one-fourth the land occupied by roadways, could supply all the electricity consumed here.

         In 1995, PV systems generated more than 800 million kilowatt-hours of electricity.

         The PV systems installed since 1988 provide enough electricity to power 150,000 homes in the United States or 8 million homes in the developing world.

         PV-generated power correlates well with utilities' daily load patterns, because the power is available when it is needed most--during daylight hours.

         The combined efforts of industry and the Department of Energy have reduced PV system costs by more than 300% since 1982. The PV market is estimated to be growing at 20% per year today. The number of U.S. companies producing PV panels has doubled since the late 1970s to about 20 today.

         The most frequently seen application of PV is in consumer products, which use tiny amounts of direct current (dc) power, less than 1 watt (W). More than 1 billion hand-held calculators, several million watches, and a couple of million portable lights and battery chargers are all powered by PV cells.

         PV is rapidly becoming the power supply of choice for remote and small-power, dc applications of 100 W or less.

         More than 200,000 homes worldwide depend on PV to supply all of their electricity. Most of these systems are rated at about 1 kW and often supply alternating current (ac) power.

         PV module production for terrestrial use has increased 500-fold in the past 20 years. Worldwide PV module shipments in 1993 were 60 megawatts (MW). The United States now shares more than 1/3 of this market.

         Worldwide production of PV modules includes 48% single-crystal silicon, 30% polycrystalline silicon, and 20% amorphous silicon, mostly used in consumer products. Modules based on cadmium telluride are expected to enter the consumer market by the end of 1996.

         The cost of larger PV systems (greater than 1 kW) is measured in "levelized" costs per kWh-the costs are spread out over the system lifetime and divided by kWh output. The levelized cost is now about $0.25 to $0.50/kWh. At this price, PV is cost effective for residential customers located farther than a quarter of a mile from the nearest utility line. Reliability and lifetime are steadily improving; PV manufacturers guarantee their products for up to 20 years.

         The worldwide PV industry has grown from sales of less than $2 million in 1975 to greater than $750 million in 1993. The companies with the largest increase in sales in the 1990s have been U.S. companies, reflecting their strong, competitive position. In 1994, the United States regained the lead over Japan in gross annual sales of PV modules.

         In 1994, more than 75% of the PV modules produced in the United States were exported, mostly to developing countries where 2 billion people still live without electricity.


Source: U.S. Department of Energy Photovoltaics Program.

For more information on this source please visit National Renewable Energy Laboratory


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