The Worldwatch Institute, Washington, reports that sales of solar cells expanded more than 40% in 1997. In a new report by Christopher Flavin and Molly O'Meara, the authors state that world solar markets are growing 10 times the rate of the oil industry, which sales have expanded at 1.4% per year since 1990.
"In industrial countries, companies are now integrating solar cells into roofing tiles and even window glass, allowing homes and office buildings to effectively generate some of their own power, and to sell extra electricity back to the utility," say Flavin and O'Meara.
New technologies are lowering the cost of manufacturing solar cells. Several companies are focused on a new generation of "thin film" solar cells that require cheaper raw materials. Scientists believe that such technologies can cut solar cell costs from $4,000 per kilowatt today to $1,000 in the next decade. While solar markets are growing, the roughly 800 megawatts of solar-power capacity now in place still represents less than 1% of global power supplies.