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The Basics Of Solar Energy And The Latest Updates Around It

Basics Of Solar Energy

What is Solar Energy?

In simple words, harnessing the radiant heat and light from the sun and using it to heat water/room and electrify homes or commercial places. The history of harnessing the heat of the sun dates back to the 7th century B.C when a magnifying glass was used to make fire by concentrating the sun’s rays. [1]

In 1883, an American inventor ‘Charles Fritts’ built the first solar device to produce electricity from the sunlight. The device was installed on a rooftop in New York. The breakthrough came in 1954 when scientists at Bell Labs created a solar cell out of Silicon by adding some impurities to increase its electricity generation capacity from light.

Solar energy and solar power have been in existence amongst us since then, but are now receiving a renewed and heightened focus considering the climate change and harm caused to the environment from the traditional electricity generation technique using Coal and other non-renewable fossil fuels. The world was looking for a more sustainable alternative and Solar Energy has caught the focus.

But why is Solar energy better? Let us get into the reasons to shift to Solar energy:

Reasons to shift to Solar Energy:

It protects the environment:

The process of generating electricity releases harmful emissions into the atmosphere. In the case of Coal, the emissions are as high as 1001 grams of CO2e (CO2 equivalent) for the generation of a 1-kilowatt hour of electricity, while with Solar Energy, it is as low as 43 grams. An extremely low amount of emissions would mean less or nearly no pollution to the environment.[2] It would thus help reduce global warming.

Basics Of Solar Energy It is Renewable:

Solar energy is generated from the most renewable source of energy that we have i.e. the Sun. As long as the sun keeps burning which is expected to last for at least 5 billion years more. We receive almost 1000W of radiation from the sun in every square meter area and hence it is a sustainable source of power.

Easy storage:

The solar energy generated can be stored in the batteries and capacitors. This can be available to use for the long term and also be easily transportable. You can read on Dcbel how an electric vehicle's battery can be charged with solar energy and transformed into a backup power source.

It is cheaper:

The advancement in technology has enabled the generation of solar power at a much cheaper cost compared to others. The lesser cost of generation would help at all levels; everyone from individual households to countries would incur less on energy creation thereby helping save money.

Can create more jobs and economic growth:

The increase in demand for Solar energy will enable growth for the solar companies. They in turn would provide more jobs and boost economic growth.

Makes countries self-dependant:

Transitioning to solar energy by countries would reduce their dependence on resources like oil and coal from other countries for power generation. They can be self-dependant and self-sufficient.

Basics Of Solar Energy

Types of Solar Energy

Solar energy can be classified into two categories depending upon the mode of conversion and the type of energy it is converted into. Passive solar energy and active solar energy belong to the mode of conversion and solar thermal energy, photovoltaic solar power, and concentrating solar power.

  • Solar Thermal Energy:
This is the energy obtained by converting solar energy into heat. This is done through the process called Solar Water Heating. For this, a solar water heater is installed on the roof of the house. The heater is packed with layers of solar collectors that absorb the light from the sun and heat the water. This process is also used for heating the interior of the house, or for heating swimming pools.

  • Photovoltaic Solar Power:
This is the energy obtained by converting the light energy from the sun into electricity using photovoltaic cells. If you have noticed the solar panels installed on the roof of the houses, this is the one. The cells are made up of silicon & other components. These components act as semiconductors and are designed in a way that it absorbs and traps the heat from the sun and converts it into electricity. The electricity produced is direct current and then it is converted to alternating current using an inverter.

  • Concentrating Solar Energy:
Concentrating Solar Energy is the process used in large-scale energy production. For this, large flat or curved mirrors are installed over the vast areas. The heat is captured and converted into electricity using 3 types of systems including:

- Linear Concentrator Systems: U-shaped mirrors are installed tilted towards the sun, tubes filled with fluids are attached to the mirrors, the heat from the sun heats the fluid which is then used to boil water in turbine generator and produce electricity

- Dish/Engine Systems: A mirrored dish that is usually composed of many flat mirrors is installed facing the sun. It directs and concentrates the sunlight onto a thermal receiver. The heat is then absorbed and converted into electricity through an engine generator.

Basics Of Solar Energy - Power Tower Systems: In this system, large mirrors are installed facing the sun. These mirrors focus and concentrate sunlight onto the top of a solar power tower. This heats the fluid in the tower which is used to generate steam. This steam is converted to electricity using the conventional turbine generator.

Important aspects about Solar Energy you should know:

1. What is the market size of Solar Energy?

The report by Allied Market Research[3] on Solar Energy says “the global solar energy market was valued at $52.5 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach $223.3 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 20.5% from 2019 to 2026.”

2. What factors is the growth of Solar Energy driven by?

The rigorous focus on development over a century has resulted in enormous environmental pollution and the pollution is only increasing. The adverse effect on the climate from this pollution has fostered the lookout for an alternative and clean source of energy production.

Pollution and climate change us driving the demand high for solar energy. The government incentives and tax rebates for the adoption of solar energy have proved to be a great boost. The demand for rooftop panels has skyrocketed because of their feasibility of use for households and agricultural sectors. Among the concentrating solar energy systems, the Linear system that requires installations of parabolic troughs is gaining popularity when it comes to large-scale solar energy production.

3. What is the current capacity of Solar Energy globally?

According to the report by NS Energy[4], as of the end of 2019, the total cumulative installed capacity of solar energy globally is 627 gigawatts. According to a PVPS report by International Energy Agency (IEA)[5], the total capacity of the world is 760.4 GW by the end of 2020.

There is constant progress made every year to increase the capacity globally to meet the energy requirements. According to International Energy Agency (IEA), an average of 125 GW of new capacity is expected each year between 2021-2025.

4. Which is the largest market for the production of solar energy globally?

According to the report by Goldstein research[6], with around 35% market share in 2016, Asia Pacific is the largest region in the solar energy market. According to a report by Global Data, APAC will maintain its dominance in the global Solar PV market. The cumulative capacity of the APAC region in the solar PV market is expected to rise from 58.9% in 2020 to 59.8% by 2030.

Basics Of Solar Energy

5. Which are the top 5 countries for solar power capacity?

According to the report by International Energy Agency (IEA), here are the top 5 countries for solar power capacity in 2020:

- China: 253.4 GW

The transition to solar power for domestic use started in the late 1990s, but heavy government incentives in 2011 gave it a strong boost. By 2013, China became the leading installer of photovoltaic in the world. It also became the first country to surpass 100 GW of total installed photovoltaic capacity in 2017. By the end of 2020, China’s total capacity reached 253 GW accounting for one-third of the world’s total.

- USA: 93.2 GW

At 93.2 GW, the USA has the second-largest installed solar capacity in the world. In 2016, 39% of all the new electricity generation capacity in the country came from solar, and more than 260,000 Americans were employed in the industry. [7]

- Japan: 72.4 GW

Japan has the third-largest installed solar capacity in the world with an installed capacity of 72.4 GW. Solar energy became an important national priority in Japan since the country’s policy shifted towards renewable energy after the Fukushima Nuclear disaster in 2011.[8]

- Germany: 53.9 GW

Germany has been among the world’s top PV installers, it held the second position globally with the installed capacity of 41.3 GW in 2016. There had been a decline since, but the Government’s renewed focus on solar has given it the necessary boost. The Government plans to increase the contribution of renewable energy for electricity consumption, targeting to reach 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. [9]

- India: 47.4 GW

India stands fifth in the world with 47.4 GW of installed solar capacity. The increased focus by the government has helped set many records. The initial plan of the Government was to reach 20 GW capacity by 2022, but the target was reached four years ahead of schedule. In 2015, the target had been raised to 100 GW of solar capacity by 2022.

Basics Of Solar Energy

6. What is the status of Solar energy in other countries?

According to the latest statistics published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)[11], below are the details of some of the other countries:

South Korea: 10.5 GW

Italy: 20.9 GW

The UK: 13.3 GW

France: 10.5 GW

Spain: 8.6 GW

North America: 68.2 GW

Mexico: 4.8 GW

Canada: 3.3 GW

Central America and the Caribbean: 2.1 GW

Chile: 2.6 GW

Brazil: 2.4 GW

Middle East: 5.14 GW

Africa: 6.36 GW

Eurasian region: 7.14 GW

Oceania: 16.23 GW

Russia is the third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide in human history. Up till recently, it showed a lesser interest in the production of energy through renewable sources owing to the large oil reserves it holds. But the global climate emergency has caught its attention. Solar energy is on the verge of expansion in Russia through a government support program. Currently, 0.2% of its energy requirements are met by renewable energy, while the global average is 10%.[23]

7. What is the cost of production of solar energy?

According to an article on Business Standard[12], a global study has found that India is the most cost-effective country for the generation of rooftop solar energy. The cost of production in India is $66 per Megawatt hour followed by China at $68 per megawatt-hour. The cost of production of solar energy in the USA is $238 per megawatt per hour and $251 per megawatt-hour in the UK.

When it comes to the cost of photovoltaics, according to a report by NREL[13], since 2010, there has been a 64%, 69%, and 82% reduction in the cost of residential, commercial-rooftop, and utility-scale PV systems, respectively.

Basics Of Solar Energy

8. Solar energy updates from India:

According to a report on PV Magazine[14], India will continue to be one of the highest consumers of energy. It is set to overtake European Union as the third-largest energy consumer by 2030. The costs of production and mining of coal have gradually increased over the years, making room for more Solar energy.

The suitable conditions for the production of solar energy in India are yet another factor that has boosted Solar energy in the country. According to an article in India Times[15], with around 300 clear days, India has abundant availability of solar energy with a potential of 5000 trillion kWh per year of energy. Solar capacity in India has increased by more than 11 times in the last five years.

The ministry of renewable and new energy has taken up a program that aims at providing solar PV-based street lights, pumps, and home lights in the regions where the electricity grids aren’t available. The ministry has installed 8,30,378 solar street lights, provided 17,23,479 home lights under this program. They have also provided 2.8L solar panels and have installed stand-alone power plants with a capacity of 2.1L KW. They are also implementing a scheme to provide 70 lakhs rural students with solar study lamps.

Some of the private companies that are playing a major role in solar energy in India include Tata power solar systems, Adani Green Energy Ltd., Wateree Energies Ltd.

Latest developments in the field of Solar Energy:

1. The conversations on renewable sources of energy are more than ever. The COP26 Summit is a part of the UN Climate Conference. It was held in Glasgow, Scotland from October 30th to November 12th that brought the world leaders together to discuss and take action on climate change has strengthened the focus on renewable sources like solar globally to cap the global heating of the Earth to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Here are the key highlights from the COP26 Summit:

i) Mr. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of Britain opened the conference addressing the world leaders and mentioned that the world is strapped to a ticking “doomsday device”.

ii) The Prime Minister of India Mr. Narendra Modi made the following commitments:

- India will generate 500GW of its capacity from Renewable Energy sources

- India will fulfill 50% of its requirements with the power generated through Renewable Energy

- Out of the 500 GW RE target, 280 GW would come from solar power

- India’s ISRO would soon provide the world with a ‘solar power calculator’ that would satellite data to measure the solar energy potential of all regions in the world.[22]

Basics Of Solar Energy iii) Mr. Narendra Modi also brought the attention of world leaders towards the ‘One Sun One World One Grid’ initiative targeted towards setting up a solar grid worldwide to enable the generation of solar energy throughout the year. He mentioned:

“A worldwide grid will enable us to provide clean energy everywhere at all times. It will also reduce the need for storage and increase the viability of solar projects. It will not only reduce carbon footprint and cost of energy but open up new avenues for cooperation between different regions and different countries.”

iv) Mr. Boris Johnson has joined hands with India for setting up the grid with its Green Grid Initiative. Hence, the project is named “GGI-OSOWOG”. [24]

v) The project will be spearheaded by India and the UK in partnership with International Solar Alliance (ISA) and the World Bank Group. The International Solar Alliance (ISA) was launched at COP21 in Paris and has recently expanded its membership scope to include all UN member states. There are 90 signatories and 193 prospective members.

vi) The ISA aims to help mobilize USD 1 trillion of funding by 2030 to assist developing countries in expanding their solar power grids, both in transmission and generation, to meet their energy needs. Mr. Boris Johnson said, “The project will drive global interconnectivity across the Middle East, South Asia, and Southeast Asia while leveraging African power pools.”

vii) Mr. Joe Biden, the President of the USA mentioned in the summit “Will we act? Will we do what is necessary? Will we seize the enormous opportunity before us? Or will we condemn future generations to suffer?”. He added that “the U.S. was committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 52% by 2030 when compared to 2005 levels.”

viii) The United States and China unveiled a deal to ramp up cooperation tackling climate change, including by reducing methane emissions, protecting forests, and phasing out coal.

ix) The COP26 Summit ended with a landmark agreement called the ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’ that committed to phase down the use of coal and fossil fuels worldwide and boost focus on renewable sources like Solar & Wind. The agreement was supported by 200 countries.

2. The UK Export Finance and the US-based GE Energy Financial Services have reached an agreement to back a Turkish Solar giant called ‘Karapinar solar farm’ that has a capacity of 1350 MW. The agreement is on the financing of £217 Million through the Buyer Credit facility. Karapinar is expected to be completed in 2022.[16]

3. Indian state Goa is preparing a 100% renewable energy plan. The state government has decided to set up floating solar power plants at Selaulim, Amthanem, Anjunem, and Chapoli dams.[17]

4. US-based Ko-Solar has launched a pilot project of mounting solar panels on the barriers that absorb sound. The pilot project is being executed in the half-mile stretch of Interstate 95 in suburban Boston in Massachusetts.[18]

5. Researchers are working on a plan to send the solar panels to outer space to be able to capture the sun’s energy on the foggiest days and darkest nights. This would help store an enormous amount of power. They are also working on how could the stored energy be beamed down to the Earth wirelessly.[19]

6. Singapore-based Maxeon Solar Technologies have made solar panels that are thinner than a pencil. They believe that it would revolutionize renewable energy. [20]

7. Facebook has signed a power purchase agreement with DE Shaw Renewable Investments (DESRI) for electricity from the 160MW Chester solar farm in the US state of Virginia. This energy would support their global operations.[21]


With the focus on renewable sources of energy, Solar Energy is at its prime. Post a strong word at the COP26 summit towards a shift to renewable energy and reducing carbon footprint, it was a clear message sent out to even the top companies. Many multinationals have started investing in the procurement of solar energy for their consumption. Given the spread of awareness of the harm caused to the environment by fossil fuels and coal, the demands for solar energy are touching record heights worldwide. It is predicted that the coming year will witness record heights for the generation and demand for solar energy.


[1] Solar Energy Basics by NREL

[2] How green is solar energy really?

[3] Solar Energy Market Outlook - 2026

[4] Top five countries with the largest installed solar power capacity

[5] Snapshot 2021

[6] Global Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Market, Update 2021 – Market Size, Market Share, Major Trends, and Key Country Analysis to 2030

[7] Solar power in the United States

[8] Solar power in Japan

[9] Solar power in Germany

[10] Solar power in India

[11] Renewable Capacity Statistics 2020

[12] India most cost-effective globally in rooftop solar power: Report

[13] Documenting a Decade of Cost Declines for PV Systems

[14] Investors bet big on renewables while solar takes on coal

[15] Explained: How India Is Making Use Of The Solar Power As An Alternate Source Of Energy

[16] UK backs 1.35GW Turkish solar giant

[17] Goa preparing 100% renewable energy plan

[18] Massachusetts to test highway barriers that absorb sound and solar energy

[19] Harvesting energy with space solar panels could power the Earth 24/7

[20] Thinner than a pencil, these solar panels are set to revolutionise solar power

[21] Facebook to feast on Virginia solar

[22] ISRO will provide calculator to measure solar power potential of any region in the world: PM Modi at COP26

[23] In Icy Russia, Interest in Solar Power Is Growing

[24] World's first partnership for transnational solar power grid launched in Glasgow

Other references:

How Does Solar Work? | Department of Energy

Solar energy - Wikipedia

Different Types of Solar Energy - 4 Types of Solar Energy Technologies

Solar Energy Basics | NREL

Types of Solar Energy & Solar Power

Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power Basics | Department of Energy

Using solar energy — Science Learning Hub

Solar Photovoltaic Technology Basics | NREL

Solar water heating - Wikipedia

Image Credits:

Image 4: Amble, via Wikimedia Commons

Image 5: Image by IWMI Flickr Photos

Image 6: Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Image 7: Image by Tom Raftery on Flickr

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Any facts, figures or references stated here are made by the author & don't reflect the endorsement of iU at all times unless otherwise drafted by official staff at iU. This article was first published here on 31st December 2021.
Kunal Jain
Kunal Jain works as an Outreach Specialist at iU

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