Solar - the most abundant renewable energy on the planet |
Recently there have been dramatic breakthroughs in solar energy that will help advance the mainstream use of photovoltaic (PV) technology, as well as solar thermal technologies (CSP towers, solar parabolics, solar water heaters). Breakthroughs in solar are bringing solar rooftop PV down to a more affordable cost. In the case of utility-scale PV (so, solar farms), solar energy is at an even lower cost: cheaper when compared to fossil fuel energy (given an ideal location for the solar farm - see chart below). Solar is the most abundant energy source available on the planet, and is steadily dropping in cost while rising in efficiency.
A key development that will enable the widespread use of solar is the production of cells using less expensive, and readily available materials. Silicon has traditionally been the preferred material for PV, however cadmium telluride with selenium, among other PV cell materials, is now also used to produce PV cells. These materials are used to produce highly efficient, low-cost cells with far less raw materials needed. This advanced solar PV technology, along with nano PV, is particularly found in utility-scale thin-film solar farms.
Nano PV cells result in much more compact, thinner, more efficient solar panels. Nanotechnologies in PV with from 4 to 7 times (or more) the efficiency of standard photovoltaic cells are in the R&D phase today, with limited commercial availability.
However, there are nano and alternative material PV cells with substantially higher efficiency than the traditional standard in the solar market (double to triple the efficiency of common solar cells that have typically had up to 19% efficiency). The solar arrays now being produced could be exponentially improved with the development, refinement, and implementation of nanotechnology. For more information on materials used to make modern solar cells, please see: Renewable Energy: Solar.
Solar Thermal |
In addition to advancements in traditional photovoltaic technology, there have been exponential advancements in the field of solar thermal energy. Instead of simply converting energy from the sun into electricity as with PV, solar thermal technology uses energy from the sun to heat water, molten salt, or another working fluid. In solar thermal systems like CSP towers (see below), steam from the working fluid is then used to drive generators. Solar thermal represents an advancement in solar energy with 4 to 5 times the power density of PV.
CSP, solar dishes & troughs
Examples of large-scale solar thermal projects are concentrated solar power (CSP) systems. CSP solar tower generators consist of a central solar energy collector, positioned on a tower and used to concentrate solar energy in order to heat a working fluid; which is beamed solar energy from thousands of mirrors (heliostats). Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is a good example of a successful large-scale CSP tower operation.The most promising new projects in the world of solar power are in CSP.
Another type of solar thermal energy system is a parabolic solar installation. Solar parabolic systems consist of solar dishes and troughs; and are used as grid-scale energy generators, as well as for large scale energy storage. Additionally, other solar thermal technologies have found great use in the emerging field of thermal energy storage (see Science Direct link). See this link for a detailed description of the various types of solar thermal systems touched on in this article, and more on solar thermal storage using molten salt; as well as more on solar water heating systems - sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/solar-thermal-storage
Solar water heaters
Another commercially successful application of solar power is the solar-powered water heater. Solar powered water heaters are mandatory in most new residential buildings and homes in the country of Israel, and now, in the state of Hawaii. Some of the other new applications of solar thermal energy include power generation and solar space heating, as well as solar water heating; in industrial buildings, schools, hospitals, and even in remotely situated buildings.
Both types of solar energy (PV and solar thermal) will continue to steadily lessen in cost as technological advancements are made. However, photovoltaic is projected to remain ahead of thermal in terms of cost of production and utilization. Solar thermal does have a couple of advantages which compensate for the higher cost. Solar thermal energy is produced consistently throughout the day, not relying on weather conditions. as the turbine will run on natural gas if there is no sun for an extended period of time. Solar thermal units fit easily with power storage systems and will continue to produce energy at night, using energy harnessed during the day.
Dropping cost of solar
This chart illustrates the future trend of dropping costs for solar, to a level much lower than fossil fuel energy. Solar energy is already cheaper than all fossil fuel energy for utility-scale thin-film solar PV farms in many locations ideal for solar.
At the end of 2019, solar produced just over 2% of global electricity. The chart above tells us that after two more doublings, when 2,400 GW of solar are producing roughly 8% of current electricity demand, solar costs (of the most recently built built & operational projects) will have dropped in half from today’s levels. In the sunny parts of the world with low costs of capital, labor, and land, we could routinely be seeing unsubsidized solar in the 1-2 cent range. In California (typical of the green line) we could be seeing unsubsidized solar at 2.5 cents per kwh. In northern Europe, we could be seeing utility scale solar routinely priced at 4-5 US cents per kwh. FROM - rameznaam.com/solars-future-is-insanely-cheap-2020
Related links on solar energy:
Here's a snippet from a BBC article titled A breakthrough approaches for solar power about the rising efficiency of solar cells, and growing use of solar worldwide>>>
"Today's average commercial solar panel converts 17-19% of the light energy hitting it to electricity. This is up from 12% just 10 years ago. But what if we could boost this to 30%? More efficient solar cells mean we could get much more than today's 2.4% of global electricity supply from the sun.
Solar is already the world's fastest growing energy technology. Ten years ago, there were only 20 gigawatts of installed solar capacity globally - one gigawatt being roughly the output of a single large power station. By the end of last year, the world's installed solar power had jumped to about 600 gigawatts." FROM - bbc.com/May2020
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