The current demand for renewables in the face of climate change has driven a surge in the solar power industry over the past few years. PV systems outpaced all other sources of electricity in adding capacity to the U.S. grid each year from 2019-2021. Although non-renewable energy sources like coal and gas continue to dominate the mix and emit climate-changing greenhouse gasses, solar’s share will continue to grow as the technology continues to improve. Solar panels are becoming more affordable, more efficient, and more versatile in their applications across the economy.
Solar installation in Ohio by solgen power
To understand the current and future possibilities for solar power, it’s important to know what drawbacks the technology has historically had. Ever since photovoltaic power was first used in the 1950s, the efficiency of solar panels has gradually increased.
However, solar has continued to face drawbacks in its cost, requirements for maintenance, and the amount of space that panels take up. Those limitations, along with the notable disadvantage that PV only works when the sun is out, have been enough to hold back the widespread adoption of solar for several decades.
Change has come within the past ten years, however, as determined researchers and entrepreneurs have developed solar panels that are both less expensive and more reliable, along with better batteries for storing power in the absence of sunlight.
In addition, photovoltaics are beginning to take on new forms that move far beyond rooftop panels or sprawling arrays that have become commonplace. These advances in technology and the resulting affordability are helping more consumers, businesses, and homeowners opt for solar system installations around the world.
BIPV stands for building-integrated photovoltaics, and describes an innovative use for solar panels in architecture. Rather than solar panels perching awkwardly on a roof, BIPV can elegantly incorporate photovoltaic cells into the building itself. Materials such as the facade, shingles, and even windows can double as solar panels, achieving on-site power generation with an ultra-modern aesthetic.
An emerging technology with countless potential uses, solar fabric is a lightweight, flexible material that generates energy from the sun. This semi-transparent layer can add photovoltaic capacity to nearly any surface including canopies, shades, greenhouses, and even clothing.
In step with the trend of integrating solar panels into structures, photovoltaic noise barriers (PVNBs) are another example of innovation in renewable energy. These are solar panels built into sound-blocking walls along busy highways. PVNBs can generate power for a locality while also reducing noise pollution, and they help solve the problem of finding space for new solar panel installations.
As photovoltaic technology improves, solar power is becoming better not only in its familiar applications, but is also being utilized in entirely new ways. Soon we may see electric wall plugs becoming less common, and instead we’ll have solar panels built into more things we use every day.
The transportation sector is currently the top contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. As electric vehicle (EV) technology improves, however, electric cars hold a lot of promise for reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. If we can also update the power grid to use more solar and other renewables instead of gas and coal, then EVs that run on truly green energy can propel us into a cleaner future.
PV systems on the electrical grid are not the only ways that solar can power transportation, however. Imagine driving a car with solar panels built in, so that the sun can help power the AC and the engine, allowing the car to drive farther on a single charge. Solar-assisted cars are indeed on the way, with several companies working on their own models. Soon we may have all kinds of vehicles running on free energy from the sun.
The Department of Defense has embraced solar power for the military, in the interests of both energy independence for installations and for U.S. national security — citing dependence on fossil fuels as a major risk for tactical operations and for the defense of the country as a whole. The military has installed PV systems at bases across the country and has also developed portable arrays that reduce the need for risky refueling missions in combat zones.
Solar power is nothing new in space travel, as some of the world’s first solar panels were developed by NASA for powering satellites. However, the possibilities for solar power in space are practically limitless with today’s technology. Not only can solar be used to propel spacecraft into deep space, but orbiting panels could be used to power the electrical grid on Earth.
Known as space solar power, the idea is to build satellite PV stations that beam power to receivers on the ground. This system would take up very little room on the planet and would produce practically zero emissions, yet it could generate continually both day and night, and could deliver power equitably around the globe. This is the future of solar technology that could truly solve our energy constraints and the climate crisis.
Although solar cars and generators in space may not be far off, they are not reshaping our everyday lives just yet. One technology that can already power our day-to-day routines, however, is solar power for residential buildings. Once considered a luxury or a symbol of status, residential solar is now affordable and versatile enough to suit many kinds of properties.
Homeowners who go solar will benefit from tax incentives and lower energy bills that can recoup the cost of installation over time. Once a PV system has paid for itself, owners simply enjoy the cost savings and the satisfaction of producing green energy, along with the increase in home value that solar panels can bring.
The viability of solar power and the time it takes to pay off will vary depending on where you live. As you might expect, those who reside in hot and sunny locations like Arizona will receive the quickest returns, but the energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness of modern PV panels might surprise you. Residents of cloudier places like Ohio and even Washington can still enjoy the benefits of solar power at home.
To learn about the potential for solar in your area, you can complete a quick assessment and find out if your home qualifies. From there, a solar power company can provide you with a quote and help you calculate the future cost savings you could get by going solar.