The State of Solar Energy

cheap green electricityEven though wind farms and natural gas generators have increased in construction costs throughout the Country, solar photovoltaic systems have actually decreased in cost to make. This is according to the EIA, who say that “Since 2013, average costs for solar photovoltaic generators have fallen by 37%, wind by 13%, and natural gas by 4.7%.” 

As more engineers build more renewable energy projects, the value the big 3 (natural gas, wind, and solar) bring to the grid (97% of capacity to be exact) offsets the costs of construction. In addition, because of “falling costs in crystalline silicon axis-based tracking panels.” 

Sure, solar energy is far behind the other renewables for producing energy–the EIA says that solar didn’t hit 2% last year–but a part of this is that the technology is still relatively new. Researchers are just now learning of the most optimal environments for solar panel efficiency. Additionally, technology will hopefully continue to grow in sophistication, meaning that the 27% of energy that coal produced last year will be absorbed more by solar, wind, and natural gas. It’s going to have to be, at least, as coal plants are continually phased out.

Smart Uses of Solar Power

In Israel there lies one of the largest solar energy projects in the world: the Ashalim Solar Thermal Power Station. It will account for close to 1% of electricity generation for all of Israel. With over 500,000 concave mirrors in usage, this will power close to 70,000 homes in Israel. Another cool feature is this: 

“The power station uses a thermal-energy storage system, based on molten salt, which allows the plant to operate for approximately an extra 4.5 hours daily at full power after sunset.”

Jumping back to the United States, researchers at Columbia University have figured out a way to increase solar cell efficiency by harnessing excitons. This simply means that there will be more than one exciton made per energy transfer process. Instead of one “excited” atom transferring electricity to an “acceptor” atom, there will be two. And this is done by using organically designed materials. 

The Future of Solar Power

The  two previous examples shed light on solar’s future. Even though some states are losing solar jobs despite renewable energy pushes, and despite the 30% tariffs on imported solar panels issued by Trump, growth is good, demand is higher than ever, and prices will continue to fall. This all means that solar power will contribute much more to overall grid capacity for some time.

Texas, meanwhile, has the largest untapped potential for solar power in the country.