• Mohit Chandak

Understanding solar power


Global solar power capacity has the potential to grow to 14,000 gigawatts by the middle of the century from 800 gigawatts at the end of last year. Solar could generate half of the world’s electricity by 2050 and become the cheapest source of energy, Gao Jifan, the CEO of Trina Solar Co., said at the Boao Forum for Asia.


President Biden recently announced plans to expand domestic solar manufacturing capacity projected to grow the current base capacity of 7.5 gigawatts by an additional 15 gigawatts. This would total 22.5 gigawatts by the end of his first term – enough to enable more than 3.3 million homes to switch to clean solar energy each year.


What to expect today:

  • Future of Solar with Alex Berlinsky

  • Understanding solar power

  • Innovative solar projects around the world


Future of Solar with Alex Berlinsky

Alex Berlinsky

Hi Alex, can you comment here about what you think is the future of solar and what are you personally excited about in this space?


Solar PV has experienced extreme cost reductions over the last decade and will be growing massively over the next several years. As we reach higher levels of solar penetration, the grid will need to start to address the issue of high amounts of excess power during the middle of the day. I expect a cost decline in battery storage similar to that of solar over the next decade, but what makes me most excited is the prospect of technologies like hydrogen and water desalination, which can utilize that excess energy for some really amazing applications.


Alex Berlinsky is a Solar Engineer with ICF and runs a blog called the Climate Candle - feel free to check it out!


Undersranding solar power

Image Source: Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

The amount of sunlight that strikes the earth's surface in 1.5 hours is enough to handle the entire world's energy consumption for a full year. Solar technologies convert sunlight into electrical energy either through photovoltaic (PV) panels or through mirrors that concentrate solar radiation. When sunlight hits the PV cells, it knocks electrons loose from their atoms. As the electrons flow through the cell, they generate electricity.


Recent innovations


In the past few years, solar energy has seen a lot of milestones in solar energy storage, wearable solar tech, solar efficiency, and even solar design tech. These are some of the recent innovations made in the industry:

  • Light Sensitive Nanoparticles: Technology that aims at providing more flexible and affordable materials for solar cells

  • Bifacial Solar Modules: These modules produce solar power efficiently from both the sides

  • Thin Film Solar: Solar films can easily be printed in rolls, which not only reduce the cost but also open new possibilities of placing solar power in different places

  • Hairy Solar Panels: It uses the core of nanotechnology wherein light-absorbing nanowires are combined with carbon nanotube fabric

  • Solar Windows: These windows are mainly treated with a new electricity generation coating which remains transparent and yet has the ability to convert sunshine into solar power

In light of these innovations, the US is undergoing changes in their energy production landscape as well. Peabody Energy Corp, the biggest U.S. coal producer, has launched R3 Renewables LLC, a renewable energy development company. It will pursue the development of over 3.3 GW of solar PV and 1.6 GW of battery storage capacity over the next five years.


Reducing costs

Solar energy is around 20 percent cheaper than existing coal-fired generation’s average wholesale power price. The cost of adding solar electricity stands at about $0.032 per unit generated, compared with around $0.058 for new coal power generation. While these are the numbers for India, similar trends can also be seen around the world where the cost of solar is now lower than the cost of coal.


Challenges

While there are now record investments in solar projects, the landscape comes with a fair bit of challenges:

  • Solar production does not happen throughout the day

  • Batteries used for storing power are costly and bulky and installation process is hectic too

  • High upfront costs to setup the facility

  • Conflict with local communities and impact on biodiversity

  • Regulatory challenges, such as ban on imports of Chinese solar products by many countries

In spite of these challenges, solar power continues to hold the most promise in terms of renewable energy projects around the world.


Source:Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, National Geographic, Peabody Energy, The Hindu, The Statesman, Economic Times


Innovative solar projects around the world


Floating solar panels

Image Source: Photo by House of Switzerland

On Switzerland’s border with Italy, more than 1,800 meters above sea level, Lac des Toules reservoir is home to the world’s highest floating solar farm. It can produce 50% more power than lower-altitude plants because of stronger solar radiation bouncing off white reflective surface of the Swiss Alps. The pilot project produces 800,000 kilowatt hours of energy a year, enough to power more than 220 homes.

Solar bike path

Image Source: Photo by SolaRoad

Being a popular cycling destination, the Netherlands has put innovation and technology to excellent use with the first bike path, SolaRoad, in the world that could generate solar energy. The solar panels are embedded in the path and are then covered with a thick transparent coating. The design ensures that the modules harness the energy from the sun while also providing a state-of-the-art bike path.


Canal-top solar farms

Image Source: Photo by BBC

Canals in India are providing a clever solution. Solar panels are being mounted on top of irrigation canals to bring electricity to rural areas. They have the added bonus of reducing evaporation from the canals, which carry water to farmlands. India has around 120 major canal systems. Gujarat, having more than 80,000 km of irrigation canals, launched the first large-scale canal-top solar power plant in 2015. Canal solar projects have since been commissioned in another eight Indian states.

Solar powered nation

Image Source: Photo by Government of Tokelau

The tiny island country of Tokelau is 100 percent powered by solar energy. This was made possible by the development of the 2012 Tokelau Renewable Energy Project. The project helped the nation to stop its dependence on the expensive and environment-harming diesel fuel. The clean energy practices keep 950 tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere every year.


Souce:Solar Metric, World Economic Forum


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