How Solar Energy Will Shape Our Future

Solar energy isn’t new, but its widespread availability is a recent development. Charles Fritt created the first solar cell in 1883. It was made of expensive selenium and had an efficiency rating of less than 1%.

It took decades before mankind’s interest in solar as an energy source was rekindled. The space race brought renewed interest with backing to begin developing the technology.

The beginning of today’s solar generation really started in the 1950s, when NASA traded selenium for silicone and increased efficiency to 6%. The New York Times celebrated the discovery as a method to harness the “limitless energy of the sun.” It was incorporated into the space program.

Nearly every United States satellite was operating on solar energy by 1972. The skyrocketing price of oil further pushed the development of renewable power. The technology continued to advance through the 80s and 90s, even as the urgency for fuel went away.

Modern Solar Power for Everyone

Some Moreland electricians believe that solar will soon begin to dominate the energy industry. In order to understand how it will shape the future, we must understand how far it has come and where it is now.

The most efficient solar panels on the market right now have an efficiency rating as high as 22.8%. Most fall in the 15% to 17% efficiency range. That’s an enormous step up from what was available in the 60s and 70s.

Manufacturers are also getting more creative with how they build their panels and their various applications. You can buy a portable solar charger for your phone or install a few panels on a shed to run an irrigation system. There is flexible solar film that can be used to engineer products and solutions.

Many power suppliers also support net metering. This process allows people and businesses with solar systems to feed energy back into the grid to earn credit that applies to their monthly bill. Some arrays can generate enough excess power to eliminate the cost of electricity.

Price is another way that solar has increased its value. The price of installation has dropped significantly over the years. A residential installation in the U.S. would have cost around $6.65 per watt in 2010. In 2018, that same installation could be done at just $2.89 per watt.

To put it into perspective, a 6-kilowatt residential solar system would have cost over $50,000 a decade ago. Today, that installation would run between $16,200 and $21,400. That is an average annual decrease of around 62%.

People today are more aware of the benefits of solar. The convenience and cost are only a couple of factors. Others also appreciate the environmental benefits of moving away from fossil fuels.

Looking to a Future Powered by Solar Energy

The appeal of solar hasn’t wanted. Its popularity continues to grow, and with it will come the resources needed to further develop and improve the technology.

Although efficiency has continued to climb, we continue to look for improvements. Much of the sun’s radiation goes to waste, even in optimum circumstances. This is one of the obstacles that the industry works to overcome. We’ll likely see increased efficiency in panels and related products in the coming years.

Storage is also crucial. Batteries allow us to continue using solar energy, even when the sun isn’t visible. We have seen improvements, but there is still a lot of ground to be covered to lower the price and effectiveness of lithium-ion batteries. Improvement will make storage more accessible around the world.

We’ll likely see more innovation in the industry. While the search for alternatives to silicone continues, researchers have taken another approach with multi-junction cells. This technology works like a standard PV panel but with additional layers. The layers optimize a wavelength to increase efficiency.

In some cases, multi-junction cells can increase efficiency to as much as 40%. Unfortunately, the added materials and engineering required to build them make them cost-prohibitive. They will likely lower in price in the future as we refine the technology.

We will see more solar arrays popping up in urban and rural communities. They already appear on residential rooftops, parking structures, buildings, or on the ground. Floating solar farms have also been built, placing the panels on water so that they don’t take up valuable land.

One thing is for certain. Solar energy isn’t going away. In time, it could overtake fossil fuels as our primary energy source. It’s more affordable than ever, highly adaptable, and better for the environment.

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