Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Solar energy is free but solar panels are not

Solar energy is there, free for use, to anyone, because nobody owns the sun. While solar energy is free, solar panels are not, in fact they are still very expensive, and this is the reason why fossil fuels still very much dominate global energy market.

The global popularity of solar energy continues to grow but even among the proponents of solar energy there aren't that many of those who are ready to pay significantly higher energy bills for more solar energy instead of fossil fuels. We all know that our reliance on fossil fuels creates massive environmental damage, mostly in form of climate change and pollution, and yet when it comes to paying extra for more clean energy we seem to forget all about our planet's environmental condition.

The environmental conscience is still not planted throughout our society which means that science and technology is our only hope for solar energy to replace fossil fuels.

The holy grail of solar energy industry is to develop not only cheap but also highly efficient solar panels because standard solar panels convert only up to 18% of the sun's rays while the rest of available sunlight gets wasted in form of heat. Even the most efficient solar panels available on the market today have an efficiency of just 22%.

Solar energy industry needs further research to find its holy grail

There are countless ongoing studies that seek for this holy grail, and there has been plenty proposals, none of which has managed to find the solution that would be commercially viable, in terms of achieving the cost parity with fossil fuels.

The researchers use different approaches in their research of efficient and cheap solar panels. Some believe that the key may lie in complex nanomaterials and semiconductors, while others tend to focus more on the process itself instead of just focusing on materials used in process.

How difficult it is to improve efficiency of solar panels with currently available technologies? Many researchers say that improving efficiency of „standard“ solar panels by only 5% would be a massive achievement because photovoltaics are very complicated technology, and in many cases when scientists try to improve efficiency of solar cells they end up getting even worse results than they were in the beginning of the experiment.

The discovery of cheap and efficient solar panels therefore remains one of the greatest scientific and technological challenges of our time, something that could well decide what our energy future will look like.

Fossil fuels still have clear edge in terms of costs and efficiency compared to solar power technologies, but fossil fuel industry still wakes up each day in fear thinking "what if today is the day when solar industry will find its holy grail?"  And what hurts them the most is that they know that this day will eventually come.