Many nations have installed significant solar power capacity into their electrical grids to supplement or provide an alternative to conventional energy sources. Solar power plants use one of two technologies:
- Photovoltaic (PV) systems use solar panels, either on rooftops or in ground-mounted solar farms, converting sunlight directly into electric power.
- Concentrated solar power (CSP, also known as “concentrated solar thermal”) plants use solar thermal energy to make steam, that is thereafter converted into electricity by a turbine.
Worldwide growth of photovoltaics is extremely dynamic and varies strongly by country. By the end of 2016, cumulative photovoltaic capacity increased by more than 75 gigawatt(GW) and reached at least 303 GW, sufficient to supply approximately 1.8 percent of the world’s total electricity consumption. The top installers of 2016 were China, the United States, and India. There are more than 24 countries around the world with a cumulative PV capacity of more than one gigawatt. Austria, Chile, and South Africa, all crossed the one gigawatt-mark in 2016. The available solar PV capacity in Honduras is now sufficient to supply 12.5% of the nation’s electrical power while Italy, Germany and Greece can produce between 7% and 8% of their respective domestic electricity consumption.
After an almost two decade long hiatus, deployment of CSP resumed in 2007. However, the design for several new projects is being changed to cheaper photovoltaics. Most operational CSP stations are located in Spain and the United States, while large solar farms using photovoltaics are being constructed in an expanding list of geographic regions. As of January 2017, the largest solar power plants in the world are the 850 MW Longyangxia Dam Solar Park in China for PV and the 377 MW Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in the United States for CSP.