The sun is our greatest source of energy. If we could convert all of the solar radiation that reaches our planet in one hour to power, it would cover the entire world’s energy needs for a full year.
Imagine if we were just to reach a little bit of using the energy from the sun. Energy is among food, water, environment, poverty, space, health and security the eight grand challenges to humanity, as defined by Singularity university. All of them believed to be solved by disruptive innovation.
Perhaps you think you have heard the discussion about the possibilities of nurturing solar before – but the fact is that this is no longer science fiction. Thanks to recent research and innovations in producing, storing and transporting, solar energy is ready for the big break-through. In this blog post I will briefly examine some of the recent land winnings.
Solar cells and solar panels are the technical means available today to take advantage of solar energy and use it to both electricity and heat.
However, intense research is underway to more effectively use our most powerful source of energy.
Window or mobile displays that act as solar cells, aircraft or trains that run on solar power – all this is soon within our reach. We’re likely to see solar in more forms and venues than we once thought imaginable. I have some examples of recent solar innovations in the last part of this blog post.
The International Energy Agency projects that solar will be the world’s biggest single source of electricity by 2050.
Solar power is currently a fraction of one percent of our total energy production.
As energy consumption will increase at least two-fold within our lifetime, innovative companies and researchers are discovering ways to develop the sun’s energy in multiple ways.
The global appetite for energy is simply too much and is driving the development and use of solar energy exponentially.
Current burn rate of energy will raise from 12.8 TW to 28 – 35 TW by 2050 (TW = 1012 watts). This additional energy needed, over the current 12.8 TW energy base, is simply not attainable from sources as nuclear, biomass, wind, geothermal and hydroelectric.
Key driver´s of using more solar energy
External drivers of economy, the environment, and last but not least, global security, dictate that coal, oil and gas energy need to be met by renewable and sustainable sources.
Shutdowns of nuclear reactors in Japan and Germany mean that these two high-tech countries are investing enormously in renewable energies to compensate for this loss in energy production. In China today, around 70 percent of electricity generation is via coal, but solar targets there are likely to continue increasing as the country faces its pollution problems, Deutsche Bank said in a note Feb 2015. The mainland’s coal use actually declined around 3 percent last year, with officials aiming to further reduce consumption.
Globally, the total photovoltaic capacity is forecast to reach 498 gigawatts (GW) in 2019. That’s 177 percent higher than 2014. The reasons are simple: continuing falling equipment prices and faster, cheaper installation.
Dramatically lower costs
Now, a new report provides in detail the contrasting costs for different power generation technologies around the world and shows that renewable sources can produce electricity at close to or even below the cost of new fossil fuel-based power stations.
Innovations that make it easy for homeowners to get into a leasing situation, new home construction being built with solar from the ground up and solar equipment
showing up incorporated into new buildings and in parking garages for electric vehicles.
The use of solar energy will most probably be exponential because it will actually save money for people.
Also, solar isn’t just about creating electricity. Nature’s solar conversion system, photosynthesis, converts sunlight to fuel. In the case of plants, fuel comes in the form of sugars. Researchers believe they can use similar reactions to split water into hydrogen fuel -low carbon emissions hydrogen, and then use the hydrogen to make liquid carbon-based fuels as needed – for things that cannot be readily electrified, like airplanes and ships.
Impact of using more solar energy
The impact on society is probably unimaginable. Innovations enabling both heat and electricity production locally. Thinking of it this way a continent like Africa will most probably have a bright future. Local production and agriculture will have access to energy at low costs, environment-friendly and scalable. And we might face a rapid local industrialization of the continent thanks to innovations in storage and transportation of energy. Not to mention access to the global markets via internet.
The main problem for a continent like Africa is actually not any longer the technology – but the security issue. If there are possible solutions to the security problem, some of the giant projects with solar panels in the Sahara will be one of the continent´s biggest exports.
Traditional House With a Solar Panel in the Sahara Desert, Algeria, North Africa.
Adding current trends of developments, we are at the door step of solar energy´s big breakthrough. Will the impact on global prices, production and markets be disruptive in the business or industry you are working in?
How will this, among all other key economic drivers, affect business models?
All we know is that we don´t know. At the enterprise level strategies and business models need to take this even more into account. How will it affect the market you are in? New competition? Opening up new market possibilities? How will investments be affected?
Finally, a reflection is what will happen with the oil price. If the speed of innovations in solar energy continues – perhaps the demand for oil for energy production will decline even more and oil prices will stabilize at the current historically “low” level. How will the oil industry respond to that disruption?
Further reading -some examples of solar innovations:
Researchers have developed a relatively inexpensive and simple way to split water into hydrogen and oxygen through a new electrodeposition method. The method produces highly efficient solar cells that can gather solar energy for use as fuel.
Researchers have invented a way to spray solar cells onto flexible surfaces using tiny light-sensitive materials. These can be sprayed or printed on an ultra-thin film that could be applied like cling wrap to any surface.
Made with window coatings capable of generating electricity on glass and flexible plastics – are becoming possible as well.
A US company has completed testing for a solar encased roadway that would generate energy, eliminate power poles and help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
Floating solar arrays over recycled wastewater – currently under development in Sonoma County, California.
Strides in solar efficiency
Most solar generators can convert up to 23 percent of sunlight into electricity. However, Swedish company Ripasso Energy claims they can covert 34 percent of the sun’s energy into power with their contraption, making it the world’s most efficient solar electricity system.
This on-going project in India produces energy and helps save water. Visionaries are trying to bring this into California.
Tower over a Singapore waterfront amusement park. And a prototype harvests solar energy from its surroundings – indoors or outdoors – stores it, and turns it into electricity to power small digital devices.
For people who don’t have the funds or the right roof for photovoltaic panels, peer-to-peer solar startup Yeloha is offering a genius solution: solar sharing. The company allows customers to “go solar” without owning a single panel by essentially feeding off their neighbors who do (and at a price that’s less than what they’d normally pay to their utility).
In the air and on the road, solar technology is going the distance. Currently, the Solar Impulse 2, the first solar airplane able to sustain flight at night with a pilot on board, is making its historic round-the-world trip powered only by the sun.
Over in the Netherlands, SolaRoad, the world’s first “solar road,” has defied expectations and has generated about 3,000 kWh of power, enough to provide a single-person household with electricity for a year. Considering it’s only a 230-feet bike path, the potential for this technology could be big, kind of like photovoltaic technology itself.