Although solar power is many things – eco-friendly, innovative, and cost-effective to name a few – “futuristic” is definitely high up on the list. After all, how can a person not marvel at the concept of harnessing the sun’s rays to power our homes, offices and transportation? Add in solar power’s stellar reputation as a clean, renewable energy source and the fact that it’s more affordable than ever, and you have an energy supply with a bright future – pun intended.
But where exactly is solar power headed? What might we see from this energy source as the technology around it continues to grow and expand? There are already a number of theories and ideas out there, and it’s worth taking a look at some of the more prevalent notions.
A New Type of Solar Cell
The current solar cell used in panels is called a solar photovoltaic (PV) cell. Many PV cells are made out of crystalline silicon, which can become expensive for manufacturers to produce. So, the next logical step in advancing solar cells is to not only find material that is cheaper and more plentiful, but also performs at an even higher capacity. Enter perovskite: a natural mineral that heralds an exciting new future for PV cells. Although it does not replace the crystalline silicon completely, perovskite can be attached to the pre-existing silicon to increase its efficiency in conducting power. According to the tech website IEEE Spectrum, these “tandem” solar cells are easy and cheap to produce in a lab, and scientists at MIT and Stanford have already created a small (only one square centimeter!) cell that has a 13.7 percent conversion efficiency. Clearly, as the technology becomes more refined, tandem solar cells will become the standard for cost-effective and highly efficient solar energy.
The Future of Solar Panels: Electronics
Solar panels will also be getting a makeover in the not-too-distant future. Although the technology has already come a long way from the bulky panels of yesterday, it’s predicted that solar panels will continue to evolve into sleek systems that can be mass produced without losing any of their efficiency. As The Motley Fool explains, “One step along that path is integrating more electronics into the solar panels themselves. This will allow manufacturers to move more component assembly from the field to highly efficient manufacturing plants and reduce the number of components shipped to a site.” Combine this innovation with the tandem solar cells outlined above and you have solar panels that may be more affordable than ever.
Solar Power as a Dominant Energy Source
It’s no secret that the world’s supply of fossil fuel is being depleted at an alarming rate – almost as alarming as the harmful gases that the burning of these fuels releases into the Earth’s atmosphere. The clear solution to save the environment without affecting our everyday lives is clean energy sources, with solar power chief among them. Solar panels are a prime solution when it comes to renewable, abundant energy that humankind can rely on far into the future.
Vox lays it out simply and beautifully:
“First, a solar cell has no moving parts, so operation and maintenance costs tend to be very low. It has to be kept clean, but that’s about it.”
Second, solar cells requires no fuel — fuel cost is zero. Once the initial investment is paid off, and subtracting modest O&M costs, the power produced is free”
And third, a solar cell generates power without any pollution.”
(The author does note that current solar panels still require fuel to maintain and dispose, but that it’s not impossible to imagine fully recyclable panels in the near future.)
Plus, more people using solar power means that it becomes a cost-effective energy source for all of us. The mainstreaming of solar power would go a long way towards erasing current myths and misconceptions about solar panels, as well as providing a wide range of options and innovations for savvy consumers to choose from.
Although there is no definitive way to see into the future, if we go by the innovations to solar power listed above, there’s no reason to believe that solar isn’t the best energy choice going forward. With a little more invention and an increase in mass-market appeal, solar energy may just be a valuable option in the coming years – for both your wallet and the planet.
What future can you see for solar power? Let us know in the comments.