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Solar Power: Fulfilling the Sun's PotentialReinhold Buttgereit, Secretary General, European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) In early February 2012, Europe was freezing - suffering through some of the coldest temperatures in years. On one particularly frigid day, 9 February, the demand for heat was so high in France that the country had to import electricity from Germany. Around a third of the nearly 10 GW of electricity Germany sent to France on that day came from a source you might not expect in the dead of winter: solar photovoltaic (PV) installations.To be sure, those cold days were sunny, and that helped solar installations provide much-needed energy solutions. But the surprising events of this past winter help answer a question one often hears from sceptics about whether renewables will really be able to meet the demands of a modern population. Furthermore, the realisation that solar PV is becoming an increasingly competitive electricity source - one that has the power to be a mainstream provider of electricity and a significant contributor to achieving energy, environmental and economic goals - helps rebut arguments that renewables will cost more than conventional energy sources.Solar power - infinitely renewable, clean, and decentralised - has always been popular. In a Pictured:Ground mounted installation - Thin Film technology. Copyright: First Solar058 renewable energy

recent Eurobarometer survey more than 94 per cent of Europeans supported using solar energy in their countries. But now solar is becoming more than just something people want for the future; it is technology that can provide solutions today. As many countries increase their focus on renewables in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, PV has shown that it is ready to be a mainstream energy source. PV modules have undergone significant price decreases, further increasing their attractiveness to investors and accelerating the technology's drive toward competitiveness with conventional electricity.Over the last decade, PV technology has shown the potential to become a major source of power generation for the world - with robust and continuous growth even during times of economic crisis. That growth is expected to continue in the years ahead as worldwide awareness of the advantages of PV increases. At the end of 2009, the world's cumulative installed PV capacity was approaching 23 GW. One year later it was 40 GW. In 2011, more than 69 GW are installed globally and could produce at least 85 TWh of electricity every year. This energy volume is sufficient to cover the annual power supply needs of over 20 million households.PV is now, after hydro and wind power, the third most important renewable energy in terms of globally installed capacity. The growth rate of PV during 2011 reached almost 70 per cent, an outstanding level among all renewable technologies. For the first time in history, PV in 2011 was the number one electricity source in ? Above: Harnessing the sun's energy, UN Photo/R Kollar" In a recent Eurobarometer survey more than 94 per cent of Europeans supported using solar energy in their countries " renewable energy 059