A sunny forecast: 5 reasons why the future will be solar powered

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?

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10 Responses to A sunny forecast: 5 reasons why the future will be solar powered

  1. Kyle says:

    It cost 900 million for NASA to explore another planet 62 million miles away for 7.5 years.

    It costs the Pentagon 900 million to fight a war in a country 7400 miles away for 3 days.

    I can see why NASA’s budget got slashed.

  2. Andrew says:

    On the other hand, solar panels have become efficient enough that they will power the Juno spacecraft as far out as Jupiter.

    • Joel says:

      Yeah, it’s truly amazing what NASA has achieved with their solar powered spacecraft. Makes the fact that their funding has been cut all the more disappointing.

  3. Mark says:

    A true testament to humanity’s ingenuity. Space exploration should be the first and foremost issue on the human race’s radar. Instead we busy ourselves with trivial bull.

  4. Setyo Pristama says:

    GOOD

  5. Juhani says:

    We still have some ways to go, if you go by the graph presented. Fossil fuels are too convenient to use, and have a very high energy density. Still… Solar power seems to be the best energy solution for the future – it just needs a bit more work.

  6. I hope Mark Little from General Electric is correct about his prediction of solar cost. If solar becomes cheaper than oil, then this technology will become widespread and the growth will be remarkable. The investment in solar is already growing rapidly, but if the cost becomes cheaper than oil, then the growth will be much much higher. People are demanding a cleaner energy, which is causing businesses and governments to invest. As the different types of solar panels expand (such as, pavement-type solar panels or the fabric-type mentioned above), this gives new ways for it to be incorporated into numerous different innovations and products.

    • Joel says:

      We totally agree. Once the price drops below fossil fuels then, we’re pretty certain solar technology will really take off. Let’s hope that day comes sooner rather than later!

  7. Pingback: MARS ROVER SOLAR PANELS | World Car Blog

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