The future of solar

on February 26, 2019

Thomas Edison once said, "I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power!"

Over the past decade, solar power has become ubiquitous in the renewable energy discussion. As the cost to produce photovoltaic cells has plummeted in recent years, more and more homes, businesses, and communities have invested in solar.

Solar has become a foundational renewable energy source, with major investments driving projects into development all over the country. However, as the technology continues to develop, the future of solar is an even more exciting place to look.

Starting a solar revolution

It was 19 year old French Physicist Edmond Becquerel, who in 1839 created the world’s first photovoltaic cell. His discovery, known as the Photovoltaic Effect or “Becquerel Effect,” showcases the foundational physics and process for what we now consider solar power.

In 1954, inventors David Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson capitalized on the Becquerel Effect, creating the world’s first modern solar cell. The very next year Hoffman Electrics produced their own solar cells, which sold commercially for 25¢ each. As solar technology continued to develop, solar power expanded to cars, planes, satellites, homes, commercial buildings, and even spacecraft.

Over time, solar technology hasn't strayed far from early models. However, the cells used to power our homes and lives today are much, much more efficient — driving down costs and opening up new uses for solar in our lives.

The current state of solar technology

In recent years, the solar industry has expanded and matured. With this industry maturity, power storage, miniaturized and wearable solar panels, and mobile technologies are just some of the new ways we see solar energy in our lives today.

One example of new solar technology comes from a Boston-based startup Sistine Solar, which has created a “solar skin” to cover and alter the appearance of solar panels. From skins that match the roof to artistic flags and designs, these skins help homeowners blend or beautify their rooftop panels. The skins don't effect panel efficiency, luckily enough.

Scientists and developers have continued pushing the limits on panel efficiency. The more efficient a panel is, the more energy created, and cheaper these panels can be in the long run. Most solar panels fall in the 14 to 18 percent efficiency range. But last year, companies pushed solar efficiency ranges to a whole new level. According to Electrek, “Hanergy’s thin film unit developed a 25 percent solar panel, Trina Solar broke 25 percent with an IBC solar cell, and a lab in Europe set an amazing record of a 26 percent solar cell using a standard, simple ‘p-type’ technology.”

One of the most prevalent arguments against solar energy is the night. When the sun goes down, panels can't produce energy. However, a slate of dozens of companies big and small are already ahead, delivering new storage technology to capture daytime solar energy for use throughout the night.

Storage technology allows us to retain generated energy when it's cheap or available, and keep it for use when the renewable source diminishes or prices spike. Storage technology has the potential to save us billions and help secure our energy supply in the longterm. You can be sure to see more about this as the industry develops.

The current state of solar technology is promising, but it pales in comparison to what the future holds.

A limitless solar future

As solar technology continues to grow in efficiency and shrink in cost, the future is limitless. Could we harness solar power closer to the sun? Panels orbiting in space, sending power back to Earth isn't as far fetched as it may seem.

In 2018, scientists from the California Institute of Technology announced in a study, that they had succeeded in creating a prototype of a lightweight tile, which would be capable of harnessing and transmitting solar energy generated from space. These lightweight tiles would have the ability to follow the Earth’s orbit, meaning power would flow continuously, without a night time dip.

Solar technology has also sparked new experiments, which have led to many cool new gadgets. Wireless solar keyboards, solar powered grills, solar shades, and even solar powered dog houses, are just some of the many ways solar power innovation continues to surprise us.

As solar power technology continues to advance, efficiency grows, and prices march downward, solar looks poised to be one of our most prevalent sources of renewable energy. Not just in our power supply, but in our tech, toys, and daily lives. Without a doubt. solar will be one of the pillars of our 100% clean energy future.