(NaturalNews) Cost and efficiency issues have plagued solar technology's standing as a front-runner in the race for clean, renewable energy resources for years, and shortages of silicon have not helped matters. But recent jumps in fossil-fuel costs and improved solar technology have caused a recent surge in the industry's popularity.
Unprecedented support for the technology has cropped up in the United States, the world's biggest energy consumer, even at the government level. President Bush visited a United Solar Ovonics facility in Michigan in February and the United States Energy Policy Act of 2005 introduced a federal solar tax credit in 2005. In December, Congress set about giving the solar industry time to develop broader incentive plans by extending the solar tax credit for another year.
Rhone Resch, Solar Energy Industries Association president, said that the top priority for the industry this year was to get Congress to pass sweeping solar incentive programs. The goal, he said, was to help the American solar industry grow at the same rate as Germany's -- the world's leading solar market -- at 60 to 70 percent annually.
The United States is not the only country increasing the amount of time and money put into solar power. Israel recently tested the world's largest solar dish, and solar projects have been announced in Central America, Southeast Asia and parts of Africa. Frontrunner Germany is seeing a slowing in its solar industry growth, but German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology consultant Michael Geissler said the photovoltaic market there would end up stable with small growth. Solar thermal technologies, Geissler said, would see major growth in Germany.
General growth in the industry has been boosted recently by important technological developments such as increased interest in ultra-thin photovoltaic nanomaterials and new records of efficiency using concentrators. Boeing's Spectrolab subsidiary announced in December that it had produced a photovoltaic concentrator able to pass the 40 percent efficiency mark.
Predictably, one of the biggest boons to the solar industry is the fact that it is becoming increasingly lucrative. Some publicly traded solar companies gained more than 100 percent on markets in 2005, and experts predict similar profits for 2006.
"Capacity and production are going up each year at (some solar companies)," said J. Peter Lynch, a financial consultant and an expert on the renewable energy industry. "And they're not going to catch up with demand any time soon."