Is Solar the Solution to Energy Sustainability?
The U.S increased its photovoltaic solar capacity by more than 2GW in just the second quarter of 2018. Plans are underway to double the county’s solar energy production capacity within the next five years. The government and other organizations, including private companies, are at the forefront of pushing for solar energy harvesting. This has led to large-scale solar installations in various states such as Utah, Florida, and Nevada.
The sudden interest in solar energy is not only felt in the U.S alone. Other parts of the world have also started to embrace the idea of sustainable energy, with solar harvesting being one of the top interests. The world has realized the need for energy sustainability and environmental conservation. Renewable sources of energy like wind and solar show great promise in aiding sustainability efforts. But is solar really the answer?
The Problem with Solar Energy
One of the main problems with solar energy harvesting is the low efficiency of solar panel arrays. Although a silicon wafer manufacturer can make the thinnest and most efficient photovoltaic wafers for solar panels, the energy conversion process of light into electricity is very wasteful. Standard solar panels have an optimum efficiency range of between 15% to 20%; even the best panels will struggle to operate on a 25% conversion efficiency.
The efficiency problem means that you’ll need huge arrays to produce substantial amounts of electricity, which require vast open spaces. You need an array the size of about 85 square feet to generate only 1KW of power. Remember also that the panels have to be laid in direct sunlight. This is why solar farms cover hundreds of acres out on flat, barren desert surfaces.
How Does Solar Energy Fare?
The beauty with solar energy is that despite the high installation cost, the panels need very little maintenance (just a bit of dusting and cleaning now and then). Plus, they have a long lifespan of up to 40 years. So, in the long-run, the ROI should offset the efficiency problem and the initial cost. The good news is that engineers are already working on improving solar panel technology, so solar energy still has a bright and promising future.