The phenomenon of solar energy was first observed over a century ago, but serious investment in installations is only just beginning
Photovoltaic energy was first observed in 1839 by French physicist Edmond Becquerel. It took another century for solar cells to become a practical means of harnessing energy: in 1958 the US satellite Vanguard 1 became the first orbital satellite to use photovoltaic cells to power radio and other equipment.
Today, billions of dollars are being poured into solar energy generation and the development of associated technologies. India and China, with their large land masses, huge populations and growing need for energy, are among the biggest investors.
The second chart, below, shows the astonishing efficiencies being achieved as the cost of solar energy production plummets.
Global solar power capacity is expected to triple by 2022, with China accounting for 40% of the world’s new solar panels – but at the moment it accounts for a tiny proportion of energy consumption. As the third chart shows, solar power made up just 0.3% of the world’s power sources in 2017 – a long way behind other renewable energy sources such as hydro.
The Sungrow Huainan Solar Farm in China, pictured, top, is the world’s largest floating solar array.
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