Are We On the Brink of a Solar Revolution?

Are we on the brink of a solar revolution? Over the past couple of years, there have been some significant breakthroughs in solar energy, specifically in reducing production costs of solar. During this time, the cost of photovoltaic panels has dropped by around 25-30% each year and this price drop shows no sign of slowing down.

In fact, if anything it is speeding up. A few companies have been working on more advanced amorphous panels that have much lower production costs. These have been in production for the past few months, with a cost point of around $0.60 per watt (about 40% cheaper than what we see today). Once production has ramped up, these manufacturers are saying they will be able to sell these panels for around one sixth of that cost.

 

So what does this mean for solar power? Quite simply, it will become the cheapest means of generating electricity available. At a wholesale cost of $100 per kilowatt (as opposed to around $1,000 today) we could see solar being incorporated into almost anything. Self-charging mobile phones, MP3 players, netbooks and laptops would be standard and the cost of fitting solar power to homes would be so cheap it would offer a payback in only a few months, no matter where in the world you lived. Warehouses and factories would all have photovoltaic roof panels, generating most – if not all – the power they need to operate by themselves. Electric cars would all have photovoltaic roof panels, providing up to 3,000km (1,800 miles) of self-generating power every year. Power companies could set up new regional power stations in just a few weeks instead of the several years it takes now.

The ability to generate electricity at an affordable price would be limited only by the amount of space you have. Got a big enough roof? You need never want for electricity again.

Solar

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Of course we still need some way of storing the energy produced so we can release it when we need it rather than just when the sun is shining, but nevertheless, this is an exciting opportunity. Incidentally, in terms of energy storage, I still have high hopes for ultra-capacitors, but as yet we have seen a lot of speculation and hype and very little in the way of practical usable products. Let’s just wait and see.

In effect, solar has the potential to do two things in the next decade: decarbonise much of our electricity generation and make electricity so cheap that it is effectively free to use.

This changes the whole dynamics of how we view and use power. If electricity is so cheap that it is effectively free, everything starts to change. How are you going to heat your home? Expensive gas or free electricity? Are you going to have a car with an internal combustion engine using expensive fuel, or an electric car with free fuel? If solar power becomes the cheapest way of generating electricity, businesses and individuals won’t choose solar “because it’s green” but “because it is so cheap, you’d be daft not to”.

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New Year, New Edition for Bestseller

29th December 2016 – Greenstream Publishing will publish its eleventh edition of the internationally bestselling guide to solar electricity and installing photovoltaic systems, the Solar Electricity Handbook. The title is written by Michael Boxwell, a leading environmental speaker who is the inventor of the leading Battery LITE, an innovative solar battery storage system. The paperback is priced at £19.99/$19.99 and available from all major retailers. Full color hardback and ebook editions will also be available.

The Solar Electricity Handbook has consistently been the leading title in its subject since its first edition in 2009, outselling competitors all over the world and proving indispensable to solar installers, researchers, students and homeowners, providing an informative and practical guide to installing these energy saving and cost effective systems. The title is used worldwide as a university core reader and has been referenced in a recent White House paper on renewable energy.

Readers say:

A great guide to understanding solar and getting hands on.”

The greatest solar reference guide ever published!”

The web site that accompanies the book, found at http://www.SolarElectricityHandbook.com, is one of the most comprehensive free online resources for solar energy on the internet, featuring solar calculators and project tools to make solar energy projects as straightforward as possible.

The solar industry continues to evolve with new and improved technologies, particularly in the area of battery storage, and the 2017 edition reflects this. The solar industry remains a hugely exciting arena to work in.” Michael adds.

Author Michael Boxwell is the inventor of the new Battery LITE battery storage system, a bestselling environmental technology author and an expert in the industry for fifteen years.

Greedy for Power

 

We have a problem in the developed world. We’re greedy for more and more power. We can never have enough. We take energy for granted. Plug a hair dryer or a kettle into a socket and switch it on and it just works. Cold? Turn up the thermostat or adjust the timer on the central heating and we’re warm in minutes. We don’t have to think about the amount of energy we want to use, it is there for us whenever we want it at the flick of a switch.

It’s the same with our cars. Get in, fire up the engine and you have an enormous amount of power under your right foot. Even a small family car has an engine that could produce enough power to provide electricity for one hundred houses or more.

What has made all this possible is fossil fuel: oil, gas and coal. These fuels are amazing. They pack a huge amount of energy in a very compact form. The amount of energy in one litre of petrol (gasoline) is around the same as the energy stored in 250kg (550 pounds) of batteries. We’ve become pretty good at transporting fossil fuels around the world and we use them when we need them. As a form of usable energy, fossil fuels are pretty much unbeatable.

Of course, there are problems with fossil fuels. Supply and demand, climate change, the occasional war… I’m not going to list them all here. But the issue is this: we have become addicted to oil and the benefits it gives us. We don’t want to lose those benefits. Whatever we use to replace fossil fuels, the public demands that we should be able to carry on doing the same things we currently do.

And that is a big mountain to climb. Renewable energies are very good at producing smaller amounts of energy, but harnessing it on a utility scale is a huge undertaking. A single solar photovoltaic panel will produce, at most, around 300 watts of power: enough to watch TV, perhaps, but only a fifth of the power required to run a washing machine. Wind turbines can produce far more, but in comparison to the power output of a conventional power station, the numbers are tiny.

One of the biggest issues with most sources of renewable power is that we get the power when nature dictates. Solar power relies on sunlight, wind turbines rely on wind. Even hydro-power, which is one of the more reliable and controllable sources of renewable energy, ebbs and flows with the seasons.

That simply does not fit in with our demands for energy when we want it. It means that renewable energy technologies have to be supplemented with other forms of energy production. Here in the UK, a huge wind turbine building scheme now means that it is quite common for wind power to supply 20% or more of our nation’s electricity at any time.  Yet on a calm day, the power output from wind turbines can be as low as 1% of our demand. The supply of this energy can fluctuate in just a few hours, making it difficult to manage supply against demand.

Traditional power stations struggle to manage this fluctuation. Coal and nuclear power stations are at their most efficient when running at a constant rate. In the UK, gas-turbine power stations are being used as load-balancers, increasing production when wind energy is low and reducing it when wind energy is higher.

Technology is evolving and we are resolving the issues. Tidal and wave energy, for example, has the potential to provide large quantities of reliable around-the-clock energy, whilst the development of stored solar thermal technologies in Spain demonstrates a way of providing a reliable 24-hour energy source from the sun. Right now in Sweden, I’m working on a wind farm project working with hydro-electricity to handle the peaks and troughs. It has the potential to eradicate the need for fossil fuels for electricity production in Sweden within the next four years.

We are getting closer. We have the technology and the ability to generate an abundance of electricity from renewable sources. We will be able to do it cost effectively and we will be able to have energy when we want it, not when nature decides to give it to us. We don’t have all of the answers yet, but we will do.

Will fossil fuels be redundant within my lifetime? Probably not. But at least we will have broken our addiction to oil and have a greener and cleaner source of energy, provided by nature, which will never run out.

 

Written by Michael Boxwell, bestselling author of the Solar Electricity Handbook.

Front Cover - Low Resolution