Solar energy has come a long way since the technology was first pioneered some 35 years ago. Once derided by its critics as an inefficient sci-fi technology that could barely power a 20-watt light bulb, solar energy has come leaps and bounds in the last decade not just in its overall efficiency, but also in its affordability. Where once solar energy was only employed by those wealthy enough to afford it, as 2015 dawns we can now see solar panels being employed in homes across the country and beyond.
As the next year unfolds, however, what else can we expect from solar technology? Are we finally going to get an alternative to fossil fuels that is not only effective, but limitless as well? So far, the prospects look good.
The Bad News
One thing that can be said is that the growth of solar energy seems to be tapering off in the first few weeks of the New Year. With fracking and more efficient oil extraction and refining techniques, natural gas is quickly becoming more widely available and affordable, and as such it is starting to outpace solar energy in growth of industry.
This is largely due to the expense of solar energy in comparison to natural gas as an energy source. While solar energy is both much cheaper and efficient than it used to be a decade ago, natural gas is cheaper still. Likewise, natural gas is a constant energy source that can be employed in all conditions. Solar energy, meanwhile, can only operate during daylight hours. Adding to this, the tax-funded subsidies offered to homeowners who switch to solar are starting to dry up, and it was partially these subsidies that were responsible for solar energy’s growth in the last year. Because of this, pro fossil-fuel sources are trumping 2015 as the year that the sun begins to set on solar energy.
However, they probably shouldn’t start to celebrate too quickly.
The Good News
The fact is this: solar panels are a developing technology, and with each year that passes solar panels become more and more efficient and producing energy. As the technology that’s responsible for their manufacture improves, so too does that technology become cheaper. There is also sincere governmental support driving use of the technology. With the world becoming increasingly conscious of dependency on foreign oil sources (the finite nature of the fuel in question, as well as the environmental impact overuse of fossil fuels has), the Western world is determined to make green energy sources work.
As such, while tax-funded subsidies may be running out, there is genuine political will at all levels of government to see renewable energy succeed. So far, solar power is giving phenomenal results. It is somewhat telling that Germany, a country that boasts the least sunshine hours in Europe, is nevertheless able to become Europe’s leading supplier of solar energy abroad, not just in its domestic markets.
The rapid growth of solar energy in the last year will likely fund yet further improvements to the way solar panels collect and produce energy for homes and businesses throughout the nation. Not only does this mean that panels in general will become better at providing power, but it also means that smaller panels will be needed to give suitable amounts of energy for not just buildings, but also other vehicles.
Solar powered vehicles were already being developed as prototypes in the last year, and 2015 may see some of these vehicles start to appear commercially. Even solar powered planes and boats have been designed and manufactured, with the Solar Challenger aircraft completing a 163 mile non-stop flight from Paris to England on solar energy. While it is unlikely that they’ll replace traditional gas-powered vehicles, it is reasonable to assume that their cheapness to run will make them a popular choice for people who have grown weary with gas prices. Although Seattle may have to sit it this technology out.
Greater domestic use of solar energy is also highly probable. The short and long of it is, solar panels are a fantastic way of acquiring affordable energy. As soon as they are installed they start paying themselves back in the amount of money being saved from using mainline electricity. They are a fantastic backup during power outages to boot, and while they may not function much during the night, contrary to popular opinion they operate in all but the wildest weather. As such, they are nearly always providing energy during the day.
So it seems the future is looking bright for solar power yet. As 2015 dawns, it is a fairly exciting prospect to see what new advances and developments use of solar panels will witness.