By J. Matthew Roney
October 27, 2011
Solar photovoltaic (PV) companies manufactured a record 24,000 megawatts of PV cells worldwide in 2010, more than doubling their 2009 output. Annual PV production has grown nearly 100-fold since 2000, when just 277 megawatts of cells were made. Newly installed PV also set a record in 2010, as 16,600 megawatts were installed in more than 100 countries. This brought the total worldwide capacity of solar PV to nearly 40,000 megawatts—enough to power 14 million European homes.
Made of semiconductor materials, PV cells convert solar radiation directly into electricity. Rectangular panels consisting of numerous PV cells can be linked into arrays of various sizes and power output capabilities—from rooftop systems measured in kilowatts to ground-mounted arrays of hundreds or even thousands of megawatts. (One megawatt equals 1,000 kilowatts.)
There are two main types of PV—traditional crystalline silicon and newer thin-film PV. In 2010, crystalline silicon production was more than double the output of 2009, accounting for over 80 percent of all PV produced. While thin-film production did not keep pace, it still grew by more than 60 percent. First Solar, a U.S. firm, maintained its leadership role in thin-film production, accounting for over 40 percent of world output, most of it produced in Malaysia.
Data provided to Earth Policy Institute by GTM Research show that Chinese manufacturers again dominated the global industry in 2010, with close to 11,000 megawatts of PV cell production. (See data.) This was the seventh consecutive year in which China at least doubled its PV output. Taiwan was a distant second with 3,600 megawatts produced, followed by Japan with 2,200 megawatts, Germany with 2,000 megawatts, and the United States with 1,100. The top five countries thus accounted for 82 percent of total world PV production.