With a newly revived impetus to strive towards combating climate change, there is every reason to look towards the sun for answers! Not just figuratively, but even literally. As the all-encompassing force of nature, tapping the potential in solar energy has been in serious consideration since the 1970s. Government grants across the globe are now making it possible to look towards a sustainable future that need not cost a fortune. But with several alternative options available there is a large debate to be had as to the cost-effectiveness and technical efficiency of the systems in place, apart from convenience.
Of the three major renewable energy sources (wind, solar and hydro), solar has had the highest growth rate over the years. According the Renewable Capacity Statistics 2019, solar accounted for a whopping 24% of increase in global renewable energy (about 94 GW). The incredible growth is a testament to the success of solar across the globe. This gospel about a hopeful future can be attributed to several advantages of solar energy:
1. Solar is everywhere
Besides the obvious advantage of solar being a truly clean energy source, it is also the most abundant and a truly renewable energy source on earth. There’s hardly a place on the planet that solar can’t reach. If one hour of the available solar energy is captured, it can power the entirety of humanity for a whole year.
Contrary to popular belief, solar energy is in fact cheaper than fossil fuels now. In 1977, it costed an average of $77 to generate one watt of electricity through solar. Now, we’re seeing numbers as low as $0.21 per watt. This massive reduction in cost can be attributed to advances in technology and mass production. Government grants and tax incentives further lower the costs, even in terms of initial investments for larger projects.
3. Short time of deployment
Even including the time of approval for large programs, solar is one of the shortest and most effective sources of energy to deploy. One of the best examples of this advantage in action is what Tesla did to revive Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the territory in 2017. Soon after the disaster, the energy crisis hit hard. In a bid to restore electricity supply to crucial sites such as hospitals, Tesla took the rapid response approach and built small solar plants across the island in just a matter of weeks!
4. Democratization of electricity
Solar has the capacity to make you live grid-free. From small homes to large commercial sites, solar can be utilized anywhere. There have been several initiatives of community solar project who now have complete control over their electricity consumption. What’s truly endearing is that some are now even able to sell back electricity that is unused, thanks to advances in storage solutions! With the advent of IoT and automation, community-scale solar projects are the future. It is not far-fetched to claim that solar energy has been a beacon of home for remote and inaccessible townships and villages across the globe.
5. Low maintenance
With no moving parts, maintenance of solar panels falls back to the basic minimum of cleaning and upkeep of wiring. Solar is a perpetual energy source that truly comes closest to the set it and forget it approach, significantly adding to the convenience aspect.
Once you have the initial set up completed, expansion is a breeze when it comes to solar. With nary a problem in terms of requirement of large, solar can be utilized anywhere where the sun’s rays shine bright.
7. Immediate savings
Even if you are in a colder or cloudier climate, solar can provide enough electricity to make for significant savings in the household electricity expenditure. The biggest advantage is that one can effectively predict the rates of electricity bills even if consumption increases, if the increase is offset by expansion of solar energy.
8. Diverse usage
One of the crucial advantages of solar energy is that it can be used as a heat source which can be converted to mechanical and electrical energy (through solar thermal plants) or as a light source that is converted directly to electrical energy (photovoltaic cell technology). This proves to be highly beneficial as solar energy can be used in a variety of application including water distillation, heating, lighting cooking etc.
While the one major disadvantage that is often cited with respect to solar energy is that it is unpredictable, it must be noted that production directly correlates with time of maximum demand. Even so, advances in storage technology are playing a crucial role in balancing the unpredictability. With several workarounds for commonly cited disadvantages, there’s hardly a reason to not embrace the path towards a cleaner, greener tomorrow. The future of energy lies in the hands of those who can claim self-sufficiency and solar provides everything we need to get there.