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Solar Energy

Tesla Gigafactory_011522A
[Tesla Gigafactory, Nevada]

- The Future of Solar Energy

The future of solar energy considers only two widely recognized technologies for converting solar energy into electricity-- photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar energy (CSP), sometimes referred to as solar thermal) -- for their current and plausible futures form. Since energy supply facilities typically last for decades, these categories of technologies will dominate solar power generation between now and 2050. 

As with other studies in this series, our main purpose is to inform policymakers in developed countries, especially the United States. We specialize in using grid-connected solar generators to replace traditional sources of electricity. 

For the more than 1 billion people in developing countries that lack a reliable grid, the cost of small-scale photovoltaics is often offset by the high value of electricity used to light and recharge mobile phones and radio batteries. Additionally, in some developing countries, it may be economical to use solar power to reduce reliance on imported oil, especially if the oil must be trucked to remote power generation sites. 


- Solar Panel Problems

In recent years, solar energy has developed rapidly, with promising improvements in technology and prices. To date, about 3% of the world's electricity comes from solar energy; it's a huge international industry with $141 billion invested in 2019. But that's well below the $794 billion ($27 trillion by 2050) annual renewable energy agency said the International Renewable Energy Agency says is needed to meet climate deal targets and avoid global collapse. 

To get there, experts say, we need to address a long list of problems. For example, existing panels are limited in how much sunlight they can convert into electricity. Efficiency has improved over the past 40 years, but only by around 10%. While advocates would argue that residential rooftop installations are a great way for people to get involved in clean energy, the real solar revolution may require large-scale installations.

While challenges remain, many researchers believe that solar is destined to maintain its momentum and expand globally.

- Problem 1: Finding Better Materials for Panels

The disadvantage of traditional silicon plate is high cost and low efficiency. But with the help of perovskites, a mineral composed of calcium, titanium and oxygen, solar efficiency is expected to improve dramatically: Perovskite sheets can be fabricated in very thin layers, require less material, and are driven by energy consumption Made of lower craftsmanship. 

After a decade of R&D, the efficiency of perovskite sheets has risen from 2% to 25%; this beats the best available silicon wafers. But perovskites have their own set of problems. However, perovskite commercialization is still very limited. Durability and cost are two competitive disadvantages of perovskites, with the former related to a "much shorter than normal solar panel" lifetime, according to the research data.


- Problem 2: Improve Storage and Transmission

Other technical challenges for solar energy include increasing storage capacity. Improvements in the transmission of solar energy over long distances, such as from sunny Southern California to the cloudy Northeast, are also critical in the United States.
As penetration increases, storage really helps with flexibility, especially depending on how the grid incentivizes or pays for energy. Storage is becoming a big part of many markets. In addition, experts believe that other forms of clean energy are likely to help displace areas where solar energy is weaker.
During the very cold winters in some parts of the United States, relying solely on solar and wind power is quite difficult. Efficiency and other technologies such as hydrogen and carbon sequestration and storage and nuclear energy can really help address these difficulties.

- Problem 3: Literally Helping Solar Energy Stay Afloat

One way to expand solar installations, not yet widely implemented, is to float panels on lakes and oceans. These panels operate in the same way as regular land-based units, but offer several advantages: Water keeps the panels cooler and improves performance by 5% to 10%. Installing these panels over water can solve the problem of acquiring land for large projects. Floating solar energy can also be used to generate electricity from hydropower and become part of an energy grid.
However, floating solar has its own unique set of puzzles. The thing to consider here is not to cover the water so much that it affects life in the water. But even 10 percent of hydroelectric reservoir coverage translates into thousands of terawatts of solar power potential globally.
But mooring and securing the panels in place can prove to be complicated and more expensive than regular grounded solar.


- Problem 4: Getting the Right Laws and Investments

Over the past 20 years, improvements in manufacturing have made solar energy more widespread. According to EMBER, solar energy in the EU rose to a record high during June and July 2021, accounting for 10% of total electricity (well above the global average). But that's not enough - the scale of the scaling challenge is daunting. Possible solutions boil down to money and politics, not just technology.
For example, in July 2021, as part of its European Green Deal, the European Commission proposed a legislative plan to increase the renewable energy target to 40% by 2030. These include making large-scale solar projects easier to install, exempting rooftop installations from building permits, investing in electricity grids, and requiring minimum levels of renewable energy in certain buildings.
In the U.S., the Energy Information Administration noted that solar panel shipments reached a record 33 percent in 2019. The Department of Energy has released a report outlining how solar energy could supply nearly half of the nation's electricity by 2050. Through massive spending, solar will account for 40% of the nation's electricity by 2035, up from 3% in 2020. President Joe Biden's hotly debated $3.5 trillion budget plan, if passed -- if it's a big one right now -- would launch solar projects built on current foundations or former mines.
But a big problem is making solar panels more accessible to people -- in their own homes or in industry. "Getting enough people to use this technology is more important than the technology itself," said Daniel Gregory, an emerging energy technology researcher at Accenture Labs. "For people who are renting houses or apartments, how are they going to get involved and use solar energy for rental homes? still not clear."


[More to come ...]

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