Solar is among the cheapest ways of generating electricity, and it’s clean. Here, we examine the challenges and opportunities that are driving success in solar around the world.
The Solar Advantage
As an energy source, solar is an unlimited renewable resource that can be used for a variety of applications including electrical power, heating, cooling, cooking, transportation, fuel production and more. Because we obtain it as pure energy, solar can be converted to many other forms. However, it is only available during the day and only when the sun shines. That’s why when storage becomes cost-effective, it will revolutionise renewables and push the world towards a more sustainable future.
While solar has been widely criticised for being expensive and often inefficient, the tables are now turning. Technology has improved considerably, costs are decreasing rapidly, and more importantly, environmental benefits are on the rise. In fact, many governments worldwide have made decisions to increase their use of solar power in preference over traditional fossil fuels such as coal.
Today’s technology enables us to harness the sun in several ways: Photovoltaic (PV) which converts light to electricity, Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) which uses heat from the sun (thermal energy) to drive utility-scale electric turbines, and heating and cooling systems which collect thermal energy to provide hot water and air conditioning.
Solar power can be deployed through distributed generation systems, whereby panels are mounted on the ground in arrays or on rooftops located closely to where the energy is used, challenging the traditional model of a large grid utility with power generation stations far from the consumption point, requiring long-distance high-voltage transmission lines. The latest technologies can be augmented into utility-scale applications to produce energy as a central power plant. Any electricity generated is sent to the grid or to battery storage for off-grid or hybrid systems.