Despite its huge potential, solar power currently only accounts for a meager 0.02% of the world’s energy needs. This figure sounds disappointing, especially when you learn that solar panels were first invented already way back in 1883. Nonetheless, we’re confident the future will be solar powered. Here’s why.
1. The cost of solar power is dropping
One of the biggest obstacles to the widespread adoption of solar power has been cost. In the US for example, solar is still significantly more expensive than fossil fuels – at around $0.22 and $0.33 per kilowatt-hour, compared to $0.11. However, every year that’s changing. So much so that Mark M. Little, the global research director for General Electric Co. believes that solar power will be cheaper than electricity generated by fossil fuels and nuclear reactors within three to five years.
2. Solar panels are getting more and more efficient
Solar efficiency is defined as the measure of power produced versus the sun’s energy that hits the panel. When Charles Fritt invented the first working solar panel in 1883, he achieved just 1% solar efficiency. Today’s GaAs based multijunction devices hold the world record in efficiency at 43%, under laboratory conditions, while the most efficient solar cells in commercial use achieve around 21%. It’s advances like these, which have enabled the Mars Exploration Rover’s solar panels to power the mission for an incredible 30 times longer than originally planned, 7 years 6 months and 23 days instead of 3 months.
3. Fossil fuels are running out
The International Energy Outlook expects a nearly 50 percent jump in global energy demand by 2035. Of the total energy the world is currently consuming, the equivalent of 240 million barrels of oil per day, oil, natural gas and coal make up 88%. Just 12% comes from nuclear, hydroelectric and renewables like solar, wind, geothermal and other sources. If we’re to meet this growing demand for power, we need to up our use of renewable energy.
4. Industry is investing big bucks
A report this year by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) found that worldwide investment in low-carbon technology climbed from $186.5 billion in 2009 to $243 billion in 2010. China increased its spending on low-carbon technologies by 30% and invested $51.1 billion, more than one-fifth of the world total. The figures speak for themselves, more cash than ever is being pumped into solar.
5. Solar power is used in ever more innovative ways
Never before has solar power been used in so many different ways in so many different fields. With Lokki, our solar powered mobile prototype, we’re researching the effectiveness of solar powered mobile communications. Currently the MS Tûranor, the world’s biggest solar powered boat is using solar power to try and circumnavigate the planet. The World Solar Challenge, a 3,000 kilometer adventure contested by 21 countries, is challenging people to cross Australia in a sun powered car. While a team of researchers at MIT has just come up with a way to print solar cells on sheets of fabric and paper. These are just a few examples of the thousands of exciting innovations happening around the world.
We think these are pretty compelling reasons to be optimistic about the future of solar power. What do you think? Will tomorrow’s world be sun kissed with solar?