|Why is solar power becoming more affordable?
For decades solar energy was seen as being too expensive. But the cost of solar-generated power has been steadily coming down whilst production costs of conventional electricity have risen.
This is mainly due to two things. Firstly, the advances in solar cell technology and secondly, the development of storage technology. This has allowed for solar energy to be more readily available to consumers and become a real alternative to conventional grid power.
Development in solar cell technology
Development and research in solar cells have been going on for decades. Yet, solar power has remained a novelty due to the inefficiency of these cells turning sunlight into electricity.
A solar panel can be seen as a collection of solar cells. A single cell does not have the capacity to generate a large amount of electricity. Therefore, multiple cells are connected to increase the capacity. This cell consists of a thin silver film on a semiconductor layer deposited on an iron substrate.
On-going research in the field has yielded fantastic results. Ever more efficient and versatile forms of the solar cells mean more efficient energy conversions. A recent breakthrough based on edible salt used in tofu could revolutionise the production of next-generation solar panels, making them even less expensive, more flexible, more efficient and easier to use.
Revival of storage technology
Just as great strides have been made with solar panel research, developments in storage have also made solar energy a more attractive option to conventional electricity.
Since the 1970s, when solar power systems started to gain traction, they used to be off-the-grid systems. Meaning that they were in no way connected to the power grid, but used lead-acid batteries in order to store excess electricity.
As these systems gained popularity, governments realised that they had to take action. They implemented laws and policies making the tying of solar power systems to power grids more attractive. Over the last decade, battery storage went from an integral part of solar power systems to marginal technology. But battery development and off-the-grid systems are making a comeback.
With power storage gaining popularity and lithium ion batteries becoming cheaper and more abundant, installers and consumers realise that tying systems to batteries will be more cost effective. This has lead to recent developments by TESLA turning the industry on its head.
Their new wall-mounted battery, Powerwall, will be able to store energy that is collected from solar panels and garden wind turbines. It will also be able to store electricity from the grid during off-peak hours to be used during peak daytime hours.
What makes it evolutionary is that it will skip the middleman by being sold directly to consumers at a much more affordable price than other lithium ion batteries. This move by TESLA is seen as a fuse being lit in the industry that will lead to competition among other suppliers. In turn, this will hopefully bring battery prices down.
Developments in solar cells and power storage over the last couple of decades mean increased conversion and storage efficiency. As technology becomes cheaper and competition drives prices down, consumers will get a lot more for less.