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How will Solar Be Used in 20 Years From Now?

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Guest Post

Solar has come a long way since its humble and costly beginnings back in the 1970s. Many people call renewable initiatives like solar, the power of the future. That comes as no shock when you realize that the Earth is consistently receiving over 173,000 Terawatts of power from the sun’s rays. This is 10,000 times more than the Earth’s total energy consumption needs. But technology has not yet caught up with the resources it is meant to harness.

When you look at certain questions like – how far the solar industry has come in the last 40 years, what advancements await us when that promised future becomes the present? In 20 years, what will the solar landscape look like? Where will our solar farms be installed? Who will be leading the industry? And what will it cost? The best way to predict where we’re going is to look at what we already know and what advancements are already in the solar pipeline.

What Will Solar Panels Cost in 20 Years?

When you look at the cost of solar panels you see a consistent decline in price over a period of 43 years as this form of energy becomes more widespread. In 1975, the world had an installed solar capacity of only two megawatts and panels cost $101.05 per Watt. Fast forward to the present and you’ll see a global solar capacity of 303 GW with panels priced at $0.65 per Watt. (Read more on affordable solar panels).

Looking back two decades, in 1998, panels had fallen to $12 per Watt. When compared with today’s pricing, this shows a 20-year drop rate of 94%. If we can assume a similar price plummet over the next 20 years, then 2038 solar panels would be priced at $0.04 per watt.

When you examine the solar learning curve, you see that historically, every time there has been a 20% reduction in costs, the number of installations has also risen by 20%. So, we can assume that a 94% drop in price will create an installation hike of over 94% by 2038.

With experts estimating that 20% of global energy consumption could come from solar by 2027, it stands to reason that, if this trend continues, by 2038 we could see upwards of 40% of global power generation come from solar.

solar installation

Perovskite: The Future of Solar Manufacturing

For years, silicon has been the industry’s go-to material for the production of solar cells. But, with an absorption efficiency rate ranging between 16-20%, it’s clear that our modern panels don’t stand much of a chance at powering the planet. To solve silicon’s issues with efficiency, cost, and installation ease, scientists have turned to perovskite, a material made with a special type of crystal structure.

The natural abundance of perovskite materials makes it a far more affordable alternative. Scientists also estimate its solar efficiency to top 31%, which is a huge boost for solar effectiveness. Industry experts are currently trying to decide if it would be more beneficial to create solar panels completely from perovskite materials or layer them on top of more traditional silicon to maximize efficiency.

Harnessing Nature’s Oldest Solar Power Source

Researchers believe that we can improve solar efficiency by harnessing the power of photosynthesis, the process in which plants convert sunlight into energy.  It has been surmised that, through the use of bio-solar cells that are created using biological materials such as bacteria, we can create artificial photosynthesis machines.

The only issue holding bio-solar cells back is a lack of efficiency. Perhaps by 2038 scientists will crack the mystery of bio-solar cells, allowing us to harness the power of plant-based energy production.

Solar Farms on Land, Sea, and Sky

For many years, large open spaces of land have been used for massive solar farms. That’s not a trend that’s likely to end anytime soon, as farmers are seeing land lease payoffs of up to $40,000 per year by offering up their unused acres for renewable power efforts. While these solar farms are beneficial to the areas in which they are found, a theory that has existed since 1986 states that the entire planet could be powered by a series of massive solar farms in the middle of the Sahara Desert.

That theory was turned into a large-scale solar plan called Desertec, the backbone of which is built on the understanding that the Sahara Desert is hit with enough solar radiation in just a few days to power the entire planet for a year. Desertec seeks to harness the power of the Sahara’s sunlight through large-scale solar farms, from which affordable and clean power could then be exported to light the rest of the world.

While Desertec has hit its share of problems over the years, a French Company called Ciel & Terre is seeking to implement floating solar farms, which will be placed atop the surface of inland water bodies. This innovative solution could help to curb complaints from environmentalists in regards to preserving open land space. The first of these floating farms is being trialed in the United Kingdom, with additional projects following in France, India, and Japan.

The Japanese believe that the future of renewable energy does not exist on the surface of the Earth at all. In what might be the most ambitious solar concept to date, the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) is looking to place solar panels on satellites and shoot them into orbit around the Earth. This would overcome the single greatest threat to solar efficiency, climate. JAXA hopes to have its first satellite, capable of producing one Gigawatt of power, in orbit sometime in the 2030s.

A Renewable Tomorrow

By guessing as to the future of the solar industry, we can more accurately gauge the direction of technological and economical advancements that will make solar power a regular part of everyday life. By placing continued trust in renewable energy, we do our part to preserve the future for our descendants and create a more sustainable tomorrow.

This article is written by Kyle Pennell. He is the Content Manager at PowerScout — we help homeowners figure out if installing solar is right for them and get competitive bids from multiple installers. Our long-term mission is to accelerate the adoption of solar which will help mitigate climate change.




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