With the rises in population, urbanization, and commercialization that are occurring, the need for viable renewable energy resources is also rising. Depletion of natural resources is quite a considerable threat to the sustenance of life as we know it. Solar energy is a landmark in the advancement of the technology that lets us harness the energy from the sun, which we receive in the form of radiation and harness to produce useful energy resources such as electricity.
The future of solar energy is becoming increasingly bright, as it is like a whole treasure of renewable energy resources just waiting to be harnessed.
Studies show that the amount of solar radiation that the earth receives in merely an hour from the sun is more than enough to fuel our global energy needs for almost a year. The future is unpredictable but, given the current trends of solar energy usage and many scientific research studies that have been conducted, solar energy seems like the best answer to our energy resource woes. Let us take a look into the future of solar energy.
What Is the Future of Solar Energy?
Solar energy is the energy received from the sun’s radiation, which is then harnessed to make it usable. It is expected to play a vital role in the future energy landscape. This is made possible by photovoltaic (PV) cells, which are commonly used in solar panels, calculators, spacecraft, and other energy-consuming items. These PV cells are made of a type of semi-conductor material, which displays the ‘photovoltaic’ effect. When sunlight hits these PV cells, the photons in sunlight activate the electrons in PV cells and knock them out of their atoms, thus causing them to flow freely through the cell and generate electricity.
In addition, there are large-scale solar-thermal power plants that use technology to concentrate the solar energy to form a strong heat source. This heat is used to boil water, which then drives a steam turbine to generate electricity. This method can be used to provide electricity to thousands of people. In addition, generating electricity by harnessing solar energy emits no carbon dioxide (CO2), which further makes it a sustainable and extremely environmentally friendly choice.
Here we have just scraped the surface, but the possibilities for harnessing solar energy to fulfill our regular electricity needs are immense. The future of solar energy looks bright... literally!
What Are Some Benefits of Solar Power?
Currently, the actual usage of solar electricity is a nominal 2 percent of the total electricity generation in the United States, even though the potential has been available to reach a minimum of 40%. The future of solar energy and how we harness it depends on several factors which can boost the efficiency of solar panels. Solar energy should become one of the mainstream choices for global electricity needs.
Advanced Technology & Changing Materials
Generous government subsidies for solar energy will fuel the global expansion of solar panel production and use. These subsidies can help in funding for research and development. This can also help experts work further toward the improvement of stability and efficiency of solar panels while reducing their cost of production.
There is a possibility that perovskite (a mineral discovered in the 19th century) will replace crystalline silicon in solar cells. Perovskite not only enhances the efficiency of solar cells but also eases the manufacturing process. The only drawback is its durability, which is yet to match the durability of the historically used crystalline silicon, but the future possibilities are very exciting.
Recycle & Recover
The materials that go into making solar panels are the same set of rare-earth elements that are used by manufacturers of laptops, cell phones, electric vehicles, etc. With the global reserves of such materials constantly shrinking, the future of solar energy is also highly dependent on how these tech giants react to the age-long attempts of solar panel manufacturers to use substitutes like iron pyrite or zinc for production of such high-end devices and gadgets.
One key consideration: Unless these companies focus on improving their processes for recycling metals and recovery systems, powerful and efficient solar panel recycling infrastructure will remain nothing but a distant dream.
Growth in Usage
Solar energy accounts for just one percent of global electricity production, but facts and research states that this number will see an exponential rise to 16% by 2050. Use of rooftop solar panels will increase remarkably with time, but analysts’ state that the game-changing expansion will happen in the utility scale.
Changing economies, more availability, and reduced costs for the materials used will likely bring down the price of solar panels largely in the near future. Analysts have tentatively forecast a price drop of about 17% is expected between 2018 and 2022.
Some places in the USA and a few other nations around the world have already been able to achieve grid parity. This means that the cost of harnessing solar energy for electricity is now equal to or lower than purchasing energy from the grid. Even though improvements in solar manufacturing are highly responsible for the price drop across the industry, the steadily increasing number of solar panel installations and financial initiatives to make ends meet are also equally involved in bringing down the cost.
What Are Some Benefits of Solar Power?
Here are some of the most important reasons to keep developing solar power:
- Solar energy comes from a natural source and is both sustainable and renewable, which means we will never run out of it
- Solar panels require minimal maintenance once you have installed the panels and the panels are working at maximum efficiency
- Only nominal maintenance work is required each year, which means lower costs overall
- Zero emissions add to the benefits of solar power generation and makes it a sustainable and environment-friendly option
- While PV cells convert sunlight to usable energy, there is absolutely no noise from the PV panel
- Constant advancements in solar energy harnessing technology are gradually reducing the cost of production
- The efficiency of solar panels is steadily improving, making the future of solar energy even more cost-effective
Future Solar Products and Uses
Revamped Solar Panels
Solar panels as we know and commonly see them now might not be quite the same a few years down the line. Researchers and scientists are coming up with new alterations and up gradations all the time aimed to enhance and improve their efficiency. Michigan State University-based researchers have developed a prototype for transparent (or clear) solar panels that can be used in various places like buildings, commercial spaces, vehicles, and even cell phones.
The scope of application might be immense for clear solar panels. But since this technology is still in its infancy, the efficiency is a mere 5% compared to the 15% efficiency of traditional solar panels we have today. It might take a few more years to increase the efficiency of these panels, and then they may really become the game-changer in taking solar energy into the mainstream.
Solar shingles are a recently developed type of black- and blue-colored panels that might take the industry by storm. These look like the usual roof shingles we often see, but they are equipped with solar cells. When connected in a series, these cells generate a similar amount of electricity to a same-sized, conventional solar panel. Many companies and technology giants are penetrating the solar shingle market with an expectation of taking this technology to people sceptical about installing huge, clunky solar panels on their roofs.
Transparent solar panels and solar shingles are advancements in this field that could change the landscape of the solar panel market globally and make it mainstream.
Microgrids (another name for "decentralized electricity production setup") are also a part of the future of solar energy. These are effective in powering up a limited area like a village or a neighborhood. This makes microgrids an ideal medium to bring expansion on a global scale and ensure the power and utility of solar energy spreads to developing countries where harnessing energy to produce electricity is of the utmost importance. Such places, which were otherwise off the grid due to the expenses, can readily be a part of this expansion. That is the most exciting thing microgrids have to offer.
The use of solar panels and PV cells is steadily increasing in both urban and rural regions globally. We have just scratched the surface of the benefits and necessity of harnessing solar energy, and it is only a matter of time before solar energy can be used to power up the world.
With the raging battle against worsening climate change, the need for a renewable source of energy is huge and pressing. Solar energy can be a saving grace and play a major role in the mitigation of climate change all around the world. It is clean, environment friendly, efficient, highly sustainable, and renewable. With more advancements in research to come in this industry, a solar-powered world might be right around the corner.