Looking to get a better handle on consumer awareness and understanding of solar energy, as well as celebrate the June 20 summer solstice, Applied Materials yesterday released the results of its fourth annual solar energy survey.
A leading producer of solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing equipment, Applied Materials found that while consumers in the high-growth-potential markets of China, India, Japan and the US are optimistic about solar power, they had a "mixed understanding of the current cost and adoption rates of solar technology, highlighting what is arguably the greatest challenge to solar energy use-- lack of consumer awareness."
"Solar power makes sense for our planet and for our children, and we need to recognize that the solution to our energy needs is already in our hands," commented president of Applied Materials' Solar division Dr. Charlie Gay.
"By 2050 the world population is expected to plateau at nine billion people, and by that time it will be imperative we have a sustainable energy source in place that has the potential to solve our energy challenges for perpetuity. Since the planning horizon for utilities extends over time periods of 30 to 40 years, the opportunity to influence the world's long-term energy supply is now."
Don't underestimate consumers' perceptions?
The cost of solar power systems has been dropping extraordinarily, even dangerously fast in some respects-- the latest industry data show that solar will be cost-competitive with conventional fossil fuel-driven electrical power sources - i.e. achieve grid parity - this year. That's a huge difference from last year's Applied Materials survey, when industry data indicated that solar grid parity would be achieved for 98% of world population by 2020.
In several respects, consumer awareness of the cost of solar energy are extremely encouraging, according to Applied Materials' survey: A full 55 percent of survey respondents believe solar energy is less expensive than traditional energy sources, such as coal. Looking at the data from individual countries, respondents in India (68 percent) were the most likely to believe solar power was less expensive. Residents in Japan (51 percent) were the most likely to believe solar power was more expensive.
Thirty-nine percent of the 35 percent of respondents overall who believe solar power is more expensive today believe it will become less expensive than conventional sources of electrical power within nine years.
"Solar panels now cost less than $1 per watt, which means more than 100 countries have achieved grid parity," said Dr. Gay. "We have witnessed an explosion in global solar PV installations in the past year due to the dramatic and accelerated rate of cost reductions in the supply chain. This has resulted in significant decreases in end-market costs, and a continued focus on technology innovation will further drive down the total cost of solar electric power plants."
Green job creation; Chinese, Indians want more solar faster
There's decidedly room for further research into the subject and improvement regarding consumers' awareness, but Applied Materials' 2012 solar energy survey shows that 46 percent of respondents believe that a healthy, growing solar power market will create jobs. Respondents in the US were the most optimistic: 58 percent said they believed a growing solar power market translates into growing employment.
Respondents in China (49 percent) and India (48 percent) believed likewise. Japanese consumers were the most cautious: 40 percent thought it wold have no impact on job creation. Overall, 25 percent of respondents think that a growing solar power market will reduce jobs.
"More than fifty percent of the jobs in the global solar power industry are found after the solar panel leaves the factory, such as construction teams, installers, sales people, designers, engineers, electricians, etc.," said Cathy Boone, senior director for Energy Policy and Market Development at Applied Materials.
"Any country, city or community has the potential to directly benefit from the growth in the solar power industry with on-the-ground jobs if they are willing to make a commitment to replacing fossil fuels with solar."
A full 58 percent of consumers in China believe the government's projected rate of solar energy adoption--a target of 15-GW by 2015--is too slow. Similarly, 51 percent of Indian respondents were concerned that the government's goal of solar power making up 6 percent of total power consumption by 2022 was too slow.
For more on Applied Materials and the 2012 Summer Solstice survey, check out "The Applied Materials Blog."
*Photo courtesy: Applied Materials