Following commitments made at COP26, 2022 promises to be a significant year for renewable energy, and especially solar power. Throughout 2022, the number of solar photovoltaic installations across the world is expected to grow by over 20%.
In the following article, the Renewable Energy Institute looks at some of the factors that make solar energy a crucial resource as we move towards a net-zero future:
1. Solar Energy Is Endlessly Renewable
Solar power is a truly renewable source that will not run out for billions of years. The sun could produce all of the energy ever needed by humans; the only limits placed on this are how we harness and store the energy.
For example, all of the world’s required power could be generated by solar panels, but, current technology would require enough panels to cover 3.27% of the United States, or roughly an area the size of Arizona. This would also require around 51.4 billion 350W solar panels in total.
Solar Photovoltaic technology has already advanced significantly to allow effective use of this source. Furthermore, technology continues to advance rapidly meaning that efficiency is expected to increase further in the coming years and decades. Innovative developments such as building-integrated photovoltaics and ‘solar fabrics’ will help us to make more effective use of this natural source of power.
2. Solar Energy Is Accessible Everywhere
Solar power can be accessed across the globe, in cities, towns and even in more rural areas. Efficiency will vary from place to place depending on the levels of sunshine, and even from day to day but, overall, even on cloudy days, energy can still be created from solar power. Solar radiation can still pass through thick cloud and be absorbed by solar panels to produce energy, although it will not be as efficient a process as on clear days.
In the UK, there are currently just under 500 solar farms in operation providing 11.6 GW a year, showing that traditionally darker and colder countries can also benefit significantly from solar energy.
3. Solar Creates Energy When Most Needed
Solar creates the most energy between the hours of 11am and 4pm when the sun is at its highest and most powerful. Coincidentally, this is often when the most energy is required in homes and businesses.
Solar panels are highly beneficial in that they can reduce the amount of energy being drawn from the grid at these peak times. Solar battery banks and other forms or storage technology also mean that energy can be stored during the day for use at night when solar panels will not be able to produce energy.
4. Photovoltaics Have Low Maintenance Costs
Once installed, solar panels have few associated costs and require relatively little maintenance. Some individual parts may need replaced irregularly, every 5-10 years. Aside from this, the majority of maintenance required is ensuring that they remain clean so as to retain a high degree of efficiency.
It is true that installing solar panels does incur a relatively high initial cost, however, this cost can be quickly recuperated as a result of their efficiency and life span. Studies have shown that modern solar panels have an expected life span of 40-50 years. As solar photovoltaic technologies advance, the costs have also decreased as a result of improved manufacturing processes and price changes in materials such as silicon. Between 2009 and 2019 the associated costs of solar panels decreased by a dramatic 80%.
5. Solar Power Has A Minimal Impact On The Environment
This form of renewable energy uses little water, does not impact air quality, and has little negative impact on its surrounding environment. Furthermore, solar panels are very space efficient; out with solar farms, they tend to be installed on roofs, therefore using space that would not be used otherwise.
The main impact of photovoltaics is the extraction process and the materials themselves that are used to make the panels. Some of these materials contain heavy metals or rare metals which, if released into the surrounding soil or bodies of water can be very harmful. However, with correct installation and proper recycling at end of life, the worst impacts of this should be negated. Furthermore, as previously mentioned, solar panels can last up to 50 years and so this minimises the impact of their production to a great extent.
6. Solar Power Creates Jobs
The Renewable Energy Industry is booming and solar energy alone creates a wide array of jobs in engineering, design, installation and maintenance. In October 2021, a report by IRENA and ILO showed that of the 12 million Renewable Energy jobs across the globe, 4 million of these were in the Solar Energy Sector.
As nations work towards their net-zero goals, photovoltaics will play a crucial role and solar projects will be looking for highly trained employees who have up-to-date knowledge. Study the Renewable Energy Institute’s Solar Energy Consultant Expert Certificate to put yourself ahead of the curve.
To progress your knowledge even further in all areas of Renewable Energy, consider studying towards the Accredited Master in Renewable Energy Award. For more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org
It is clear to see that solar energy is an abundant, accessible and low impact form of renewable energy, which, in conjunction with other forms, is crucial in helping us to move away from fossil fuels and towards a low-carbon future.
As solar photovoltaic technology continues to advance, it will be fascinating to see the impact this has on our ability to harness and store this energy in the years and decades to come.