Graph of the Day: Why solar power is taking over the world

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For anyone who is in doubt about the incredible journey solar power has taken in past decade, this graph offers a stunning reminder.

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For anyone who is in any doubt about the incredible journey that solar power has been on over the past decade the graph below – sourced via this story on Treehugger – offers a stunning reminder.

As the graph shows, the cost of solar PV – the orange part – 40 years ago was up around $US100 per Watt, and a global total of only 2MW was installed.

Of course the cost of the promising technology falls rapidly from there, but global solar installations – the blue bit – barely register until that magic moment somewhere between 2000 and 2005, when price per Watt reaches a tipping point and the blue bit soars to a total of just under 65,000MW in 2015.


© Earth Policy Institute/Bloomberg

And as Treehugger’s Michael Graham Richard notes, “the beauty of having exponential growth on your side is that very quickly, even the current blue spike will look tiny. In 2020 or 2030 we’ll look back on 2015 and it’ll barely register as the beginning of the curve on the chart.”

Sophie Vorrath

Sophie is editor of and deputy editor of its sister site, Sophie has been writing about clean energy for more than a decade.

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  1. Jacob 3 years ago

    Can we get this data in a table.

    Would be great to see the price through the 1990s.

  2. Gordon 3 years ago

    I paid just over $11/watt for a couple of 59W BP panels in 1991 when I went off-grid, and some Solarex panels a couple of years later were not much less than that per watt.

  3. patb2009 3 years ago

    well the question is as energy becomes cheaper what new things become enabled?

    • Mike Dill 3 years ago

      There are a lot of energy efficiency gains out there. I hope that efficiency parallels the cost reductions in solar. If that continues, we might be able to live on this planet without turning all of it into a desert.

      With that in mind, it is possible that more people will recognize that we need to live withing the confines of this planet, and stop the consumeristic need to buy the next toy or gadget.
      Yes, I want that cool thing, but we need to figure this out.

    • neroden 3 years ago

      Well, first we switch home heating to electric (instead of methane/”natgas” or heating oil), and then we switch cars and trains to electric (instead of gasoline or diesel), and then we switch from coke-based steelmaking to electric arc furnace steelmaking… eventually we switch airplanes to electric.

      • lin 3 years ago

        And somewhere in there tractors, trucks and other heavy machinery.
        If our electricity distributors had any vision for the future, they would be planning around all electric houses with EV as a starting point, and do this by making electricity and grid connections cheaper. I am planning to convert to heat pump hot water and home heating, and an inductive cook top so I can ditch gas, but all the profit-protecting crap (particularly the “punish PV”) the gen-tailers are pulling is causing me to reconsider, with an eye to what can be achieved with no grid connection.

    • milliamp 3 years ago

      The cost to fuel a car with electricity instead of gas is one answer to that.

  4. Lachlan Ennis 3 years ago

    Why the slow down from around 1985?

    • neroden 3 years ago

      You have to zoom in closer to see the pattern: there are plateaus followed by sharper drops, repeating. These represent production bottlenecks: while production is bottleneck-limited, the production cost may drop but none of the solar panel manufacturers cuts the retail price, they just pocket more profits… until enough of their competition builds more factories to remove the bottleneck, and then the price-cutting happens and the profits go back to normal. There have been a few different bottlenecks; there will probably be more.

    • Sim 3 years ago

      Lower oil prices?

  5. matthiasm01 3 years ago

    Well, it’s not all good news, because SOLAR COMPANIES ARE BLEEDING! There is hardly any profit to be made anywhere in the world right now. US-based REC Silicon has announced today that it will shut down part of its capacity because there is an oversupply. Also Polysilicon prices are declining to levels not sustainable. This has to change.

  6. onesecond 3 years ago

    You can see exactly when the German EEG started and when Germany cut back its subsidies when the Genie was out of the bottle. 🙂

  7. Phil 3 years ago

    As an off grid solar user there are 3 key points i found to maximise your Solar panel use and amenity.

    Many of these apply to on grid solar users too , even those who work , as on weekends if they are home they can be using the surplus power.

    The key point is the appliance technology is constantly changing , as well as Solar so sometimes a complete energy audit is required.The energy CONSUMPTION mindset is just as important as the solar GENERATION

    Most importantly when those appliances have to be replaced due end of service life or a capacity change is required , choose wisely your appliances based on cost / efficiency / reliability factors.

    Here are the 3 key points i found.

    1) Have at least 2 options with your heavy power use appliances. ( generally room and water heating / cooking / room cooling) so if the weather is good you use 100% electric. If the weather is bad you may use a wood stove/ cooker / wetback (hot water) – or LPGas and just use ceiling fans for cooling as it’s not blazing sun hot.

    2) Choose energy efficient appliances as they fail or a new buy – but dont overspend chasing just 5% more efficency , it has to be a little more , say 10% and save 30% energy minimum . It also pays to buy when you see a crazy sales special , say 40% off if you intend to change the appliance within a year anyway

    Modern direct drive washing machines , led lights , inverter fridges , inverter reverse cycle air conditioners , Inverter pool filter pumps , Induction cooktops , led backlit displays / tv’s and laptops versus desktop pc’s can drop your energy consumption by 50% overnight.

    Why heat a full sized oven for a small meal when a low cost benchtop oven can do the same thing for a quarter or less of the energy. You can also use a smaller clothes dryer with a smaller wattage element , the run times effectively are longer . This maximises surplus solar panel surplus energy on cloudy but damp days.

    You use less power so your solar useage is maximised . And if off grid your battery setup lasts longer and works better , and may not need to be as big = less upfront and ongoing costs.

    3) Avoid appliances that use standby currents 24/7 . That light sensor may use as much energy as an LED light being on 24/7, with far better amenity. That remote control ceiling or pedestal fan may use in 24 hours as much as the fan power in a week. That clock radio may only use 10 watts but have 4 of them and thats 1kwh per day . Far Cheaper to run a battery operated clock radio and change the batteries once year. Each Electric towel rail of 50 watts uses 1.2kwh per day . Throw the towels in the dryer when the solar panels have surplus power.

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      Spot on Phil, but you missed turning off standby loads, like TV’s etc

      • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

        Yes, We switch off TV’s etc at the wall and enable powersave so that the TV will power off if someone leaves it on.

        Since our clothes drier failed we have not bothered with a placement. Our washing machine is very efficient and its spin-dry gets rid of a lot of moisture in the clothes. In winter we hang the clothes on a rack inside.

        Have also replaced nearly all lights with LED’s except for kitchen circular fluoro. The cost of LED equivalents are about eight times fluoros.

    • Louis de Villiers 3 years ago

      Spot on indeed – but surely rarely necessary in Australia to use a clothes dryer? Certainly not in WA.

      • Phil 3 years ago

        Hi Louis , in the higher (cooler) alitude areas on the east coast of Australia it’s almost impossible to get clothes dry outside on some colder days as the dewpoint is so high you can have heavy condensation with blue skies and blazing sun due the lower temperatures.So clothes in the sun sometimes never dry.

        A short time in the dryer fixes that. I use my clothes dryer at least once a fortnight in those conditions and every week in winter due cloud cover or lack of thermal energy to dry things quickly enough.You can’t always choose the day you have to wash so having a dryer means the clothes always dry

        I’m 100% off grid and don’t have any issues with having enough power to do this. And in winter some heavy clothes and towels etc can be dried near the wood heater.

        • Louis de Villiers 3 years ago

          All good Phil! Clearly much different weather to what I’m used to. Well done for being entirely off grid. Pity the govt and state and federal corporates cannot get with the programm to keep people in the grid and develop the smart grid, to everyone’s benefit.

    • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

      We have solar, induction and evap cooling. The latter is very effective and cheap to run. We have gas storage HWS and ducted gas heating. I plan to install solar HW and inverter AC when these appliances reach the end of their life.

      • solarguy 3 years ago

        As far as SHW goes may I suggest Edson Evacuated Tube system, mine has saved me hundreds of $ over the years. Performance is outstanding, only having to boost it for an hour or two, 10 days last year.
        20yrs warranty on stainless tank and 15yrs collector. Best on the market.

        • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

          Pretty pricy from $5195 though!

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            Barry, I don’t know who gave you that price, nor do I know what size system. But for a typical family of 4, I can sell you one for $4,444.00 and the STC rebate would be approx. $1,482= $2,962 not including install.

          • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

            It was just a quick Google search and doubtless did not include the stc. Thanks for the info, much better price.

  8. Ken Buzzins 3 years ago

    I can now see why the Coal Industry is crapping it’s dacks.

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