The specifics of solar power might be new to most people but in reality it’s a very well established technology and energy generation method. There is a lot of fact and fiction floating around out there about solar. We try and clear up some misconceptions on our FAQ page, which is good information for those new to the solar world. Whether you are looking into building your own solar system, or are simply interested in the technology, knowing as much as you can about how it works will serve you well. You will probably find that solar is a dense subject with seemingly endless topics to learn and discuss, but today we are going to talk about the past, present, and future of the sun as a power source.
The Sun: Infinite Power
For approximately 5 billion years the sun has been and will continue to be a virtually unlimited source of power. It shoots light and heat energy outwards towards every planet in the area. This energy output is sustained for billions of years through the miracle of nuclear fusion, a process modern day scientists have been trying (and lately having great success!) to emulate on Earth for decades. In the meantime humans have been resourceful enough to use the free energy of the sun for our own purposes. If you have ever used a magnifying glass to burn a hole in a piece of paper, you know what it’s like to use the sun’s energy. This is similar to how humans in early times have used mirrors to start fires or light torches.
Solar Panel Technology
Solar Panels as we know them today are simply a grouping of thin sheets of materials that react to the presence of photons. Originally selenium was discovered and used as a material for solar cells but nowadays our panels are largely composed of silicon. Silicon based solar panels have seen action in space as early as the 1950s, and in residences as early as the 1970s. The dominance of silicon for the past half century is not everlasting however. As the field of material sciences improves, reduced costs and enhanced manufacturing for certain materials will result in new solar panels with higher efficiency and electricity production. The era of silicon in solar cells however has seen radical reductions in cost over a short amount of time; As much as 80% less cost since 2010, and 25% cheaper within 5 months! Meanwhile the federal and local incentives that allow solar to financially break even more quickly are being scaled back just as fast as the falling costs so it is always better to install solar as soon as possible.
The Future of Solar Power
Currently Solar is being deployed at historic rates. The Solar Industry just had its largest solar installation quarter, and the data is telling us Q4 2016 will be even bigger. These long term trends are unlikely to come to a halt in the future, and may even accelerate as solar becomes cheaper than buying energy from the grid in more areas of the world. Additionally new materials are being improved such as perovskite, which is set to enhance or eclipse silicon as the critical material in solar panels, which will make panels more efficient and less expensive. Ancillary technologies such as drones which are perfect for the operations of the solar industry should also help to drive costs down making it easier for people to create their own clean electricity. Other related technologies, like electric cars and energy storage, are also becoming affordable quickly. The combination of these technologies can also affect the future of solar in a powerful way. There is no doubt in our minds of course that the future is going to be bright.