Solar heads to developing world

October 15, 2009

While solar power has investors on Wall Street seeing green, countries in the developing world also see a bright future in solar technology.

They believe solar power systems that convert sunlight into electricity can help power developing areas without going the route of dirty coal-fired power plants.

Solar companies like China’s solar panel maker Suntech and California-based eSolar, have recently announced forays into the developing world.

Suntech is teaming up with Pakistan’s alternative energy development board, which the company’s chairman and chief executive Zhengrong Shi called “a clear example of the promise of solar energy.”

Solar thermal company eSolar said last week that it is expanding in Africa and earlier this year it partnered with an Indian company to build solar power plants in India over the next 10 years.

And a $400 billion euro plan is gaining steam to power Europe with Sahara sunlight, despite critics.

Today’s top solar market — and lots of profits — are found in Germany while the United States and China are fast-growing alternative energy sectors. Will countries like South Africa join their ranks one day? How will countries and governments make good on the promise of solar energy for the developing world?

Photo: Workers build a thermo-solar power plant in Beni Mathar August 20, 2009. Photo credit:REUTERS/Rafael Marchante


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You failed to mention India’s proposed gigantic solar power project which will produce over 200 gigawatts of power, enough energy to supply 200,000,000 Indians with electricity and clearly the largest solar power project on earth. We are seeing the Indian government proactively taking the world lead in solar power development. Mark Montgomery

Posted by Mark Montgomery | Report as abusive

Solar, while clean, is still incredibly inefficient. It is only “profitable” for companies at the present time because of massive taxpayer subsidies. Once those subsidies are gone (which will be soon), solar will not be viable until the technology improves exponentially (decades away). Until then, carbon and to a lesser extent, nuclear will be the least expensive and most efficient.

Posted by Robert | Report as abusive

Every year the advance in technologies will make solar more cheap. This will tip the scale in favour of solar energy.
Secondly u don’t have to connect to the grid for the power.
People who install solar or other re power don’t have to worry about increased power bills.

Posted by nimbu pani | Report as abusive

Big business.

I see these investments in solar as a business opportunity rather than an effort to provide power and cut CO2 emissions.

The output on solar, isn’t enough to justify this strategy. Business driven options.

Wind is far more productive and cheap than solar and when alied to hidric resources a faster and economic way to pull some MW and cut CO2.

Wind can be installed away from the grid also, or even attached to it, giving some small communities an extra income.

Wind can be high tech or low tech, with more expensive 1/2 MW turbines or smaller community turbines.

Business, business, business…

Posted by Ricardo | Report as abusive

What we should learn from our historical experience with energy is that we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in one basket. There is no reason that we can’t develop multiple energy generation technologies in wind, solar, biomass, and whatever else we develop that is truly clean and renewable.

I think it’s important that renewable energy allies don’t squabble between solar and wind. Even if it’s just because the technologies are too immature to declare a winner. Support renewable energy and don’t mudsling other technologies.

@ Ricardo: I think you’re blinded by your love for wind. There are many solar options that scale from low-tech to high-tech designs. Try to inform yourself before condemning and entire industry with thousands if not hundreds of thousands of derivative designs.

@ Robert. Solar thermal (i.e eSolar) is incredibly efficient. In direct heat applications, it can reach over 90% efficiency. Standard solar panels available commercially are only 15% efficiency, but high-performance ones reach 45% (but are more expensive). Furthermore, until we find a way to reflect the true cost of coal and other fossil fuels, it’s unreasonable condemn solar. And do you really think that there aren’t “subsidies” for coal and natural gas in the form of inequitably cheap access to mining rights, tax breaks, and other forms of government support. Just because solar subsidies are more transparent doesn’t mean there isn’t tax payer money going into traditional forms of fossil fuel based energy.

Solar technology is still on an aggressive learning curve and as production increases, costs will drop with economies of scale. So will other renewable energy technologies. With advances in our economic system, such as a carbon tax, we may also find a way to better reflect the value of renewable energy systems such as solar.

Posted by Nerea | Report as abusive