The Future of Solar: Technologies and Thriving Above Politics
If you haven’t paid attention to what’s happening in the solar industry, you’re missing out on substantial growth that’s on its own fast-paced path. Despite political tug-of-wars over using eco-friendly energy sources, solar technology continues to thrive above the political fray.
Recent statistics show the growth of solar panels has continued on a steady growth rate of 59% annually since 2006. With the 30% solar Investment Tax Credit reenacted in 2016, the purchase of solar panels hit an all-time high. Though the tax credit will begin to taper off after 2019, we don’t expect to see solar installations drop much.
It’s not to say challenges aren’t still in the way for solar. Let’s look at what those are and what to expect in the coming decade.
The Good and the Bad of Solar Panel Trade
Supply and demand in the solar panel industry has seen some turmoil recently due to certain economic and trade situations. With tariffs and other protections, it should drive an increase in U.S. manufacturing of solar panels. We’ve already begun to see some of this. Continuing tax benefits are also expected to maintain domestic manufacturing demand, especially on the commercial side.
The current challenge is the oversupply of solar panels here in the states. Because of this issue, solar panel installations might fall a little this year. However, the lower prices may counter most of this and increase solar adoption, especially at the commercial level.
Don’t expect this to turn into a continuing fall, though. Despite the tariff, solar imports from China are continuing because the modules are so inexpensive to begin with. While tariffs may increase again to counter this, the biggest threat is any impending trade wars with China that could affect other components such as inverters.
With much of this impossible to predict, the solar industry is dealing with a decent amount of uncertainty. Regardless, it’s unlikely to negatively affect it dramatically, including a continuing global demand that can’t be stopped by anyone or anything.
Which Solar Niche Will Have the Most Growth?
At the moment, the utility sector is the one niche that’s growing the fastest in deployment of solar technology. Thanks to solar panels being cheaper, implementing solar power by utilities creates a domino effect in bringing cheaper power to the masses.
For utilities, solar brings more fixed electricity prices when demand peaks during the winter. In this regard, you can see why utility use in solar panels is going to have a very successful future. Solar power is already less expensive than a gas-fired peaker plant and will continue to widen the gap.
Commercial use of solar power is beginning to pick up pace. This year, solar panel growth in commercial businesses is at 72%, with expectation it’ll rise to 74% next year and in 2020.
While residential use continues to grow as well, utility independent micro-grid use is set to have the most growth in the coming years. Through this technology, communities generate their own sustainable power, something we’re slowly starting to see more of. Despite being a small part of solar growth now, it’s expected to become one of the top niches in the future as batteries continue to drop in price.
More Advancements in Solar Technology
Expect to see further advancements in many solar technologies, many of which are growing just as fast as panel manufacturing process itself.
The continuing push to innovate in inverters, storage, backup, and battery solutions continues. Companies such as SolarEdge continue to pave the way with the most efficient and safe inverter platform on the market. In addition to inverter efficiency, there are developments in backup and battery technology. In fact, the prices for lithium batteries are now falling faster than prices of solar panels which have now largely leveled out.
A good example here is in the increasing use of electric cars. When businesses start installing more EV charging stations, and more people start buying electric cars, battery technology development will continue to accelerate, and solar installations will grow to charge them with clean energy. In fact, batteries from electric cars that have become too depleted for use in the car can be re-purposed to serve out their remaining life as stationary storage before eventually being recycled.
All of these advancements are practical and based on what we currently use. Far more innovative things are on the horizon, like customized solar panels called “solar skin.” Still in development, the intention is to create panels that blend in aesthetically with buildings.
Other technologies we’re seeing on the horizon include solar roads, flexible PV material for wearable solar devices, increased solar cell efficiency, and solar thermal fuel as a form of solar energy storage.
Printable Solar Panels
With the above technologies proving an exciting future for solar technology, one standalone manufacturing process may eventually become the new norm.
Being able to print solar panels from a 3D printer is the next big opportunity, and it has origins in Australia. It all started with University of Newcastle professor Paul Dastoor who printed organic solar cells for use in displays at an exhibition in Melbourne.
These are easily produced at high speed and for only $10 per square meter, making it one of the most affordable methods ever devised in manufacturing solar cells.
Even better, the panels are relatively easy to print, perhaps someday making the manufacture of solar panels possible right out of a person’s home.
So far this is just an experiment in Australia, though with the technology of 3D printing growing at a phenomenal rate, we could easily see printable solar panels become a reality worldwide. In Australia, cheap printable solar is an important possible solution due energy gridlock where most of the power is used.
Solar Energy at a Higher Scale
We’re seeing a push toward solar technology eventually reaching multi-terawatt scale power, something that MIT continues to study closely. They put out a substantial report a few years ago discussing what the future of solar might look like.
Their view is that we’ll eventually see solar energy deployed on a very large scale, likely capable of powering entire cities.
Obviously, this is an incredible vision, but it’s going to take a little while before we see it become reality. Right now, the technology isn’t quite there to create multi-terawatt solar plants. We see it edging closer every day, though.
Staying in Touch With Future Solar Energy on the U.S. East Coast
Mountain View Solar has always been a pioneer in your local area. Those of you who live in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia or Pennsylvania will be able to enjoy some of these new technologies as we move into the next decade.
Whether for your home or business, we’re here to provide the latest energy solutions to save you the most amount of money.
Contact us today to learn more about our solar solutions to help you find the energy independence, economic benefits, and environmental stewardship you’ve been looking for. There has never been a better time to go solar!