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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Solar Shines

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Tuesday, October 28, 2014/Categories: sustainability, environment, Archive Pick of the Week

Riled Up has been an enthusiastic supporter of solar power as a renewable energy source. A revolution in its use has now underway and it has only just begun. Originally invented in the 1960s to power communication satellites and space probes, solar cells take advantage of the photovoltaic effect -- where silicon materials can capture light energy to generate a current -- enabling them to generate their own power.

While once very expensive, PV panels now produce electricity economically at residential, commercial, and industrial scales. The National Renewable Energy Lab ( NREL) has produced a map of annual PV potential in watts/square meter.


Photovoltaic Potential in Watts/square foot/day (credit: NREL)

Solar cells had limitations. These included: high manufacturing costs for the cells; their low efficiency; low battery electrical storage capacity; resistance from the public utilities to adopt non-fossil fuel sources; and challenges to established grid infrastructures.

While battery storage still needs improvement, manufacturing costs for solar cells and their electrical efficiency have improved in both directions. In 1977, the cost to produce a watt of power was $75. By 2014, this had dropped to $0.75/watt or a decline of 99%. While at the same time, solar efficiency more than doubled. The curve of declining costs, more typically associated with silicon chips for computers, now shows the same declines in silicon cells for solar power.

 
Price Decline in Crystalline Silicon Cells, 1977-2013 (credit: Bloomberg)

It is worth remembering that more energy hits the earth as sunlight in one hour than humans can use in one year.

The revolution in production of solar energy has now taken off and will accelerate. It offers shining opportunities for everyone.

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