Solar helps areas all over the world acquire energy for the first time. Microgrids could enable the 1.2 billion people without access to a grid to produce electricity. They will help achieve the universal energy access goal of providing 195 million more people with energy by 2030.
What It Looks Like Now
Most of the off-grid areas are in Africa and East Asia. There is a push to provide universal energy through an expansion of transmission and a variety of production methods. Many communities in sub-Saharan Africa cannot be connected to the gird, so renewables are the answer. With political goals and market growth aligning, off-grid energy is more feasible than ever.
More than 30 percent of off-grid Kenyans use solar. Some financing programs hope to help solar reach 70 percent of Uganda’s rural population. Asia is quickly following suit. In many instances, these solar systems just provide light and phone charging capabilities, but production is expanding to include fans and TVs.
For some countries, solar is even improving a tourism market. Ecotourists look for the pristine wilderness in the countries utilizing off-grid solar. Safari lodges use more energy than the communities using off-grid solar because the clientele using them are usually from areas with stable energy sources and expect phone charging capabilities, lights, and even refrigerators, washing machines, and air conditioning or heat.
What It Could Mean
Eventually, with solar, communities will have access to services only available with energy like internet and quality of life will improve. The situation improves environmentally as well. Off-grid communities do produce some pollution. It is not anywhere near the scale of developed countries like America or Europe or developing countries like China. However, off-grid communities do burn wood, releasing carbon dioxide. Some wealthier communities even use diesel generators. If these methods of light and heat generation could be replaced with solar, that would be 1.2 billion people’s energy being produced by solar instead of diesel or wood.
Solar arrays are an investment. Those who choose to invest make their money back. Those lucky enough to live in areas with high solar rebates and incentives will make back that money quicker and maybe even come out with a profit.
The value of solar panels go beyond rebates and tax cuts though. Homeowners who installed solar panels sold their homes for an extra $15,000 dollars because of photovoltaics on their roof. Berkeley Lab ran the study about the sale of homes with photovoltaics because realtors will have to able to price solar arrays accurately as the become more common.
Not only do houses with solar panels sell for more, but they sell faster. Low energy bills and positive environmental impact are a big plus for many potential buyers.
But Keep in Mind…
Different aspects may affect the amount of money solar panels add to the home. The age of the system and the roof can lower the benefit. The surrounding area may make a positive or negative impact. If the homes around are middle-class or lower, many of those buyers will not want to shell out extra for solar. The appearance of the home may also limit the amount of money the panels are worth to a potential buyer. If panels are on the front of the house, it may be considered ugly (though we certainly do not think so!).
The extra $15,000 applies to owned solar arrays. Homeowners should keep leases, loans, and warranties in mind while trying to sell. Leases can be transferred, but the buyer must agree to take on those payments. Loans have to be paid, and warranties may or may not be transferable to a second homeowner.
Other than reducing carbon footprints and helping society make steps to a cleaner world, solar panels can give homeowners a little kickback for their investment even when they need to leave it behind for opportunities else where.
New solar innovations pop up in the growing industry on a regular basis. Sometimes, innovations just improve efficiency by fractions of a percent, quietly helping in the climb toward higher efficiency.
However, several new findings put higher efficiency on the horizon of solar panels with flashy recreations. Today, according to Energy Sage, the best solar panels convert about 22% of absorbed sunlight into energy and cost $2.87 to $3.85 per watt.
Agency of Science Technology and Research created a compound to replace silicon. In the average solar panel, silicon converts sunlight to energy. Before now, the only possible replacement was toxic Tulluride. The compound, called CZTS, an acronym for copper-zinc-tin-sulfide could change the game of solar panels with 30% efficiency.
Korean scientists also discovered a possible replacement. Perovskite is an element that can convert sunlight to energy, but it is very unstable. Scientists added flourine to protect the perovskite layer from moisture which causes it to degrade. The panels are not perfect yet, but perovskite is more efficient than silicone. They may be the panels of the future.
Transparent Solar Panels
With new transparent solar panels, solar energy may be produced where it could not be before. Unlike the familiar silicon panels seen on roofs, these panels only absorb invisible light. On the bright side these panels can be put on any windows, smart phone screens, or any clear surface. If solar panels covered all the glass in America, these transparent panels double the potential energy solar could offer, making up almost 80% of the national energy demand.
Scientists work to improve storage batteries as well as panels. Storage batteries moved the solar industry into new territory of microgrids, an innovation themselves. Storage batteries are lithium batteries. Scientists at Berkeley found materials store Lithium in ordered and disordered fashions. Currently, batteries are made with materials that order lithium and other materials in neat layers. However, disordered organization stores more lithium. Scientists identified a criterion to use in predicting how materials will organize lithium. They also found adding flourine increases storage, stability, and fire safety.
It Takes Time
As exciting as these innovations are, they won’t make a splash immediately. New ideas often cost more. Solar roadways hit the market last December. However, the first project sold for $5.2 million for a kilometer length road. Like the very first solar panels, cost is not always effective, but with time and even more innovation, these great tools will be available for the average homeowner or community.
The cost of solar panels continues to fall, and hopefully, CZTS, transparent solar panels, and even solar roads follow the same trajection. A future is possible where solar is a part of what we drive on or in, our windows, and even our touch screens. It just requires more innovation.
Before any large investment, pros and cons must be weighed. Here’s what everyone should think about when considering solar panels.
The Sun Shines Everywhere
In South and North Carolina, there is no shortage of sunshine to collect. Unlike locations closer to the poles like Alaska, there is always sun out for a meaningful amount of time which means panels can produce energy during any season.
But It Shines Better In Some Places Than Others
Shade can be problematic, so trees and tall buildings can be an issue. SolFarm’s very own Mike Diethelm is a licensed arborist who can check out any problematic trees. Trees causing shade may be cut down, so if one of them has sentimental value, it may be an issue. Trees are a carbon sink and do their own work in decreasing carbon in the atmosphere, but sometimes there needs to be a give a take for the better environmental good.
Solar energy production does decrease in the fall and winter (here are a few tips to make sure the panels are as productive as possible), and when it is nighttime or cloudy, energy production is low or nonexistent.
With solar panels, a resident or business is not reliant on power plants for energy. In the case of a power outage, there are systems that can produce energy without being connected to the greater grid like a Floridian who kept the lights on after Irma. Solar panels will also lessen or eliminate power bills depending on the size of the array.
Never Completely Off the Hook
Residence are required to be connected to the grid. During less productive months, solar panels will probably not produce enough for a household or business. Solar’s peak production hours are during the workday which is great news for a business, but maybe not for a resident. When people come home in the evening, solar panels are not as productive, and as people turn on lights when night falls, panels are not productive at all.
Even if solar panels are not active when a household uses energy, that excess energy is put on the grid, and the monetary equivalent of that generation is deducted from the power bill. Solar panels can save a household or business money even if it does not use the produced energy.
Lessen That Carbon Footprint
While utilities are adopting large-scale renewable production methods, the majority of municipal power in the Carolinas is created by the incineration of fossil fuels. Having solar panels taking the brunt of a household’s or business’ energy production will decrease the amount of carbon it produces.
Solar panels are made out of limited resources with their own pollution and humanitarian issues.
High Initial Cost
Solar panels are expensive. Installing an array will most likely cost thousands of dollars.
There are federal and, depending on the state, state tax credits for solar panels. In a matter of years, taking the money saved with net metering into account as well, the initial cost of the panels can be made back plus some.