Solar Breakthroughs


The solar industry qualifies as an industry of the future due to its enormous market potential. The most obvious potential is what we see on the roofs. It seems that less than 10% are equipped with solar panels. This great potential can be realized if solar can achieve the following breakthroughs:

First, the price has to come down. During the last few years, prices for solar panels have collapsed by around 80 per cent. The prices are expected to come down even further due to the current supply glut and technological change.

Second, the present efficiency is less than 25%. That means it has great potential for improvement. With the rise of efficiency, prices will drop some more, and the surface area of each panel will be reduced.

Third, solar energy must be stored for later use because the sun may not shine when we need the energy. This requires inexpensive and light-weight batteries. At present, battery technology is the biggest bottleneck. The expensive and heavy batteries available now are limiting the growth of solar. Since batteries depend on chemical reactions, a breakthrough in chemistry and material science will improve the storage capacity for solar.

Fourth, solar is not flexible because the solar cells are plated on a solid panel frame to be installed on the roof or elsewhere. The heavy and bulky nature of the frame limits the installation capacity of the panel on curved surfaces such as cars and ships and airplanes. Recently, a breakthrough has been achieved in the laboratory for a peel-and-stick panel where thin flexible solar cells can be applied to any surface like a decal (See Stanford Engineering, The Year in Review 2012-2013).

Of the four required breakthroughs mentioned above, the first one has been achieved. Now we are waiting for the rest to make their great impacts felt.

December 2013

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