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The Future of Solar Energy

September 19, 2019

Growing concerns about saving the planet means the future of energy is leaning towards renewable energy sources like solar power, wind power, geothermal energy, biomass, and hydroelectric power. BP (formerly the British Petroleum Company) surmises that by 2040, the global energy system will be heavily dependent on these renewable power sources as the pace toward a low carbon economy gathers steam. It is projected that renewable energy sources will grow by 7.1% per year, and eventually dethrone coal as the leading energy source before 2050. Companies like Sun Solar Electric are taking the lead in promoting the adoption of solar power through solar power installation and services in Northern California and the Bay Area.

Countries like China are moving away from traditional industries that are notorious for emitting excessive amounts of greenhouse gases to healthier choices such as the service industry. More so, the unfolding standoff between China and the US is hurting the economy, and if these trade wars carry on, there will be a 4% decline in global energy demand.

In its 2019 Energy Outlook dossier, BP appreciates that rising demand for energy must be addressed while avoiding reaching dangerous levels of global warming. To this end, the dependency on oil will continue as companies like BP and others seek more environmentally friendly ways of supplying energy. One of the forces shaping the transition to renewable fuels is solar energy, and this article discusses how the US and the world are fairing on that front.

Big Oil Remuneration for Executives

Before we delve into how solar power is gaining ground, it is vital we appreciate that not everyone is on board with the drive toward low carbon emissions. Fossil fuel conglomerates are hard at work chasing profits and rewarding the senior leadership handsomely for this growth. The oil and gas industry is set to extract more value from dwindling opportunities as the demand for oil, coal, and gas starts to decline, plateau, and eventually drop. Staying afloat has led this industry to embrace a remuneration practice that incentivizes the top brass, so they pursue more growth. The metrics at play are promoting value-destroying actions that undermine the goals to negate extreme forms of climate change in the coming years.

In 2017, Carbon Tracker noted 92% of big oil companies (e.g., Anadarko, Oil Search, and Cabot Oil & Gas) had implemented measures to spur growth in the development of fossils concerning existing reserves and production. Diamondback Energy was found to be the lone star without growth metrics in its 2018 incentive plan for senior executives.

Furthermore, it is disheartening to know that European oil and gas companies are more focused on alleviating the effects of climate change more than their American counterparts. Carbon Tracker found that just one out of twenty US companies – ExxonMobil – is working towards mitigating the adverse impacts of global warming. Overall, these oil and gas companies are encouraging the growth of fossil fuels as they prioritize healthy bottom lines over the future of our planet.

Why Solar Power?

The sun is a natural resource that will produce energy for billions of years without the fear of depletion as the case with fossil fuels. There are many technologies to harness this power, such as photovoltaic panels, thin-film solar sheeting, and solar collectors. Solar power is clean as the solar cells convert it into energy without the need for generators.

However, the transition to solar energy has been faced with multiple hurdles that are making the process slower than intended. Since the 1970s when the movement toward solar energy began, the cost of solar panels has dropped, and this is attributed to technological advances. Better technologies have made solar panels 99% cheaper, but the current prices are still comparatively high when matched up to other forms of energy. In the face of recurrent economic downturns, consumers are forced to make tough choices, and this usually means fewer people making the shift.

The other hurdle to impede the widespread adoption of solar energy is the amount of power generated by the cells is dependent upon insolation or how much of these rays can reach the cells. More so, there is a dire need for the storage cell (battery) technology to evolve to allow holding enough electric power to sustain energy supply in the days when there is little to no sunshine. To address these issues, the US government is keen to incentivize people to use solar power through tariff schemes and making solar energy more accessible and endearing to more households in cities and rural areas.

Technologies for Solar Power

There are two leading technologies employed in solar energy production:

Photovoltaics (PV)

Solar PV refers to the rooftop solar cells used in homes and commercial establishments to produce electricity directly from solar energy. Photovoltaic technology traced its roots to 1954 when Bell Telephone manufactured the inaugural PV cells to power space satellites. By the 1970s, these devices were powering remote areas where power lines were yet to arrive. Since the turn of the millennium, the majority of PV installations are now connected to the primary grid.

This non-mechanical device is made of a semiconductor material that absorbs photons from sunlight, and only these retained photons are used to produce electricity. The amount of power PV cells can generate varies according to the technology used and the kind of semiconductor material therein. Current efficiency levels of commercial PV cells range in the spectrum of 5% to 10%, and these figures are expected to rise as technology evolves.

Some advantages of photovoltaics include:

  • They can supply electric power to remote places that are not covered by the grid
  • They have minimal environmental impacts on buildings covered with PV cells
  • The installation process is swift, and the size of PV modules can be customized

With these advantages of PVs, it is no wonder that photovoltaics have succeeded in the local and global market, managing to carve out niche markets in remote area power, supplies and satellites, and consumer electronics. A sharp decrease in prices has also contributed to the positive response, not to mention electricity from solar PV is becoming cheaper than domestic and commercial retail power from the grid.

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP)

CSP is often called solar thermal technology, and it uses the sun's energy to produce high-temperature heat, then generate electricity from that. It uses mirrors to focus the rays and turn it into heat that then produces steam to drive a turbine to produce electricity. CSPs have two main components; one that harnesses solar energy and turns it into heat, and the other part that converts this heat into electric power that is then used to power homes and businesses.

Concentrated solar power systems use thermal storage to supply solar energy when it is needed, thus helping to address grid issues where power supply is intermittent. By enabling storage of solar-generated heat, CSP systems power homes and businesses long after the sunset.

Myths about Solar Energy

While the use of renewable energy sources is taking ground in the US and beyond, the concept of harnessing solar power is still shrouded with myths that affect people's perceptions. These myths have led to various misunderstandings of solar energy and contributed to the slow uptake even in industrialized markets. If we are to scale up production and switch to this renewable source, it is vital that we debunk some of these myths:

  1. Solar panels cannot function during cold, snowy or cloudy weather

New solar power technologies are more robust than their predecessors in the early 1980s and 1990s, and they perform very well in cold, sunny, and cloudy weather conditions. These newer solar power models can produce energy when the sunshine is hard to come by so you can power your home. Germany is a frontrunner on solar panels, and consumers can attest to their efficiency during winter seasons.

  1. Clean coal is a better option than investing in solar power

The term "clean coal" is misleading people as this fossil fuel is not entirely free of greenhouse gases, and even the production process leaves considerable damage in its path. High levels of smog in the metropolitan areas and rising mercury levels eventually increase carbon emissions, thus degrading the environment further.

  1. Installation and maintenance of solar panels are expensive and complex

If you procure solar panels from a reputable manufacturer and hire an experienced technician, the installation process is straightforward. These panels can withstand the harshest winters and rainstorms, so you should not worry about durability. Maintenance procedures typically involve removing the accumulated debris and regular cleaning with water, especially for battery-based systems.  

  1. Solar energy is too expensive and therefore not economically feasible

As noted earlier in this article, solar panels are much more affordable due to technological advancements, and these prices are set to drop as better and cheaper models enter the market. It is cheaper to harness solar power and generate power than using nonrenewable sources like coal.

  1. Surplus solar energy can be stored in battery systems

Households or commercial enterprises that are connected to the regular grid can take advantage of the net metering system where the excess power is credited to their account. The additional solar energy can be used later when the panels are not running, such as during nighttime.

More Solar Energy in Future

Solar energy is renewable, and since it does not use fuel or need other resources, it does not produce any carbon dioxide emissions, which makes it an ideal choice for the environment. The world is grappling with more significant impacts of greenhouse gases, and industrialized countries have been asked to curb these emissions. Apart from these obvious benefits of solar power, there are many other reasons why the country needs to utilize this renewable source:

  • There are no energy production costs as compared to traditional sources like coal
  • Energy production corresponds with rising demand for electricity, which is usually the hours between 11:00 and 16:00
  • Since this renewable source is inexhaustible, there are plenty of economic savings, and it is not prone to market fluctuations like the oil industry
  • Solar production has no noise pollution, and neither does it produce any waste, which makes it ideal for the environment
  • There is less power wastage when solar power is channeled between production and supply points
  • Renewable energy compliments the regular power grid such as when there is a dip in voltage or a blackout
  • The commercial production of solar power systems and installation creates tons of jobs every year, thus helping to alleviate the issue of unemployment

Industrialized nations like the US have considerable emissions of greenhouse gases, and they must, therefore, take the necessary measures to reverse this trend. As of 2017 data, the inventory of greenhouse gases in the country was as follows: Carbon dioxide (81.6%), methane (10.2%), nitrous oxide (5.6%), hydro-fluorocarbons (2.5%), and others accounted for 0.3%. These figures point to an awful trend that must be changed to mitigate the impacts of global warming.

The Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement was effected on November 4, 2016, and its signatories – the US included – are required to fight climate change and adapt to its adverse effects through nationally determined contributions (NDCs). More so, members are supposed to reinforce these efforts in the coming years until the aims of this accord come to fruition.

Regrettably, out of the 1995 signatories of the Paris Agreement, only 16 have set clear objectives for reducing greenhouse emissions that will help them fulfill the ambitious pledges they made to combat climate change. It appears that nations made big promises but are not doing a great job on the domestic front to ensure they deliver, notes an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Germany takes the lead in solar technology, the high demand for power in the winter months requires a huge base load of electricity, and this additional power comes typically from coal. Subsequently, this European nation has failed to reduce carbon emissions. Other countries like Greece, Italy, and Spain recorded a decline in greenhouse gases in the past few years, but this is mainly due to an economic slump.

Conflicting objectives are also to blame for the sluggish performance on the Paris Agreement. Developing nations like China are hard at work striving to attain better living standards, which means increased demand for energy. Thoughtful advocacy efforts must recognize such conflicts and find better ways of addressing them, as lowering carbon emissions cannot succeed without China.

Find Solar Panel Installation Services Near Me

Contrary to the above grim report, a 2018 report by the Environmental Studies Institute (EESI) surmised that the US had reduced 760 million metric tons since 2005. To put these numbers into perspective, the entire EU cut 770 million metric tons in this timeframe. On the whole, the future of solar power is bright as countries endeavor to shield themselves from the scary advance of global warming by switching to renewable energy. If you want to switch to environmentally conscious energy, contact Sun Solar Electric at 707-658-2157 to consult with our expert technicians. We install energy-efficient systems (solar power) for residents in Northern California and the Bay Area.

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