Sun worship can be traced back to the earliest civilizations known to man. In Mesopotamia, the Sumerians believed all gods and goddesses, including the sun god named Utu, were celestial beings that radiated a bright light. Ancient Egyptians believed the sun was a manifestation of God, which they called Ra. Egyptians believed that Ra created the first divine couple, Shu and Tefnut, who were the parents of the earth and sky.
In ancient Greece, Helios, the god of the sun, was said to rise from the ocean in the east each morning and ride in his chariot across the sky each day to descend at night in the west.
Although these beliefs no longer hold true, there is a small, but growing number of present-day sun worshipers who still look to the sun as a powerful object in the sky. But instead of worshipping it as if it were a god, they're working hard to harness its energy and create a vibrant and affordable photovoltaics market. This is a group of people we should all respect — it's because of their hard work and undying commitment that this market still even exists.
According to an article in Solar Today, the world PV market has grown more than 20% compounded per year for the past 25 years, and 35% per year over the last five years. This amazes me because it flies in the face of many obstacles. Federal and state rebates and incentives are tougher than ever to come by, system efficiency levels are still not high enough, and the cost of solar electricity is still three to four times higher than that of fossil fuel-generated electricity. But these facts don't seem to deter these new-age sun worshipers.
If anything, I think I've seen more high-profile large solar installation announcements come across my desk in recent months than ever before. For instance, Lowe's recently announced the installation of one of the largest commercial solar rooftop electric systems in the nation, a 370kW system, at its West Hills store in Los Angeles. Sun Power & Geothermal Energy, Inc. recently announced the award of an $8.4 million contract to design and build a 1MW PV system for the Butte County Center in Oroville, Calif. When commissioned in June 2004, it will be one of the top 10 largest solar energy systems in the United States. Johnson & Johnson has installed an array of solar panels capable of generating 245kW of power at its Janssen Pharmaceutical Products facility in Titusville, N.J. At peak, the array's 2,850 panels can produce 500kW of power. But it doesn't end there. Smaller commercial and residential projects seem hotter than ever too.
So in support of this important topic, we decided it was time to step out of the office and let some of these present-day sun worshipers show us exactly how bright this market may or may not be.
For a big picture view of the PV market and a overview of the various technologies in use today, turn to page 26 and read Staff Writer Amy Fischbach's article “Photovoltaic Systems: Harnessing the Power of the Sun.”