We live in the age of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. We use mobile devices with fast-charging capabilities; we look for computers with the latest gaming processors. We need more and more energy in order to achieve these things. When it comes to energy, we look for the most sustainable power resource: solar energy.
Its easy availability is not the only factor that makes it the most capable of fulfilling the growing energy demand. In the last few years, it has crossed different hurdles that prevented it from widespread adoption. The global solar energy market has come a long way since then. According to market research firm Allied Market Intelligence, the global solar energy market was valued at US$52.5 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach US$223.3 billion by 2026, expanding at a CAGR of 20.5%.
The growth in rooftop installation and wide-scale adoption are some of the main reasons for the increasing demand for solar cells. Besides, recent technological advancements have led to the adoption of solar panels to produce electricity. For example, scientists have built a new design of solar panels that could capture more solar energy. Moreover, the prices of solar panels have considerably decreased in the past few years. In November 2019, researchers from the University of Houston reported a new hybrid device that can efficiently capture solar energy and store it whenever needed.
Apart from that, developing countries such as India are participating in the widespread adoption of solar energy. An Indian solar energy project recently obtained a staggering US$100,000 grand prize. It is expected that solar energy will soon replace traditional energy resources if it overcomes a few challenges.
Solar Energy Challenges
A lot of countries are investing in solar energy. Although it has the potential to be the future energy source, it needs to be adequately harnessed. Solar energy is most commonly used for insulating homes, cooking, and heating water. However, sunlight is not available for hours at a stretch in many countries, preventing them from harnessing solar energy.
Besides, storage is another major issue that needs to be overcome immediately. The current battery systems are not cheap. However, the latest solar panels have found solutions to these issues, but there is a vast scope for improvement. Besides, extracting maximum efficiency out of a solar panel is another issue. At present, the silicon-based solar panel offers 33% efficiency, which implies most solar radiation is not used to generate energy.
The Future of Solar Energy and Technology Looks Bright
One way or another, we all use something that’s powered by solar energy. There are only two novel solar technologies — concentrated solar power (CSP) and photovoltaic cells. Yet, solar energy is set to overtake other energy sources.
For example, Cumberland and Maine now have solar fields. The new solar field in Cumberland aims to save at least US$20,000 in the first year itself. The Cumberland solar field that holds about 1,400 panel-arrays is expected to fulfill the electricity needs of the entire town’s houses. Estimated savings in around 12 years is expected to be US$125,000 per year. Moreover, the estimate of the total savings for the array’s four-decade life is expected to be around US$4 million.
To increase the popularity and adoption of solar cells, we need new designs equipped with technologies that could store more natural light and convert the light energy into power while balancing the production costs. People are more likely to adopt renewable power sources if it produces energy equivalent to other non-renewable resources.
Solar is one of the world’s fastest-growing technologies. Over a decade ago, there were only 20 gigawatts of installed solar power across the globe. By the end of 2019, the installed solar capacity globally had skyrocketed to around 600 gigawatts.
Solar power breakthroughs such as perovskite-based photovoltaic cells are ready to change the world. However, there is a scope for improvement. Gadgets that can harvest solar energy throughout the day can be used to generate more solar power. If the solar panel points directly at the sun, it would be hit by more photons than if it was pointed at the sun during midday. In any case, the research is still in its nascent stages.
There are various other ways to improve efficiency. For example, a statement highlighted that instead of moving solar panels, mirrors should be placed to focus the light, which could eventually reduce the production cost of solar cells.
In the future, silicon-based solar cells are expected to gain more traction and continue to be cheaper if it’s adopted in large numbers. Moreover, leading industry players are investing profusely in R&D to boost the efficiency of photovoltaic cells. Who knows, they may even find a more effective material than silicon to manufacture solar cells!
This is only the beginning, and any significant improvement will take time, that too only if people install solar cells in large numbers. In that case, the future of solar energy and technology is as bright as the sun.