If you wish, a report on the future of solar energy from the Department of Energy paints a beautiful picture of the next three decades, at the end of which nearly half of the nation’s energy will be provided by the sun. But for that to happen, big pushes need to happen along four major lines: better photovoltaics, more energy storage, lower soft costs, and hiring nearly a million people.
Here’s what the report says it takes to meet the ambitious goals that each of these areas needs to be.
The solar cells themselves will need to continue to improve in both cost and efficiency to achieve the type of installation volume required by DOE. For context, 2020 saw 15 gigawatts worth of solar installed, the highest ever – but we need to double that installation rate by 2025, then double it again by 2030.
If photovoltaics don’t improve efficiency, it means these already ambitious numbers need to go even higher for it. And if they remain at today’s prices, the cost would be too high to even achieve those quantities.
Fortunately efficiencies are increasing and costs are already coming down. But it’s not like it happens naturally. Companies and researchers around the world spend millions on new manufacturing processes, new materials and other improvements, individually incremental but which add up over time. It is the basic research and advancement of science and methods around solar Sure continues at or beyond their pace over the past two decades.
DOE suggests that research along the lines of making more exotic PVs cheaper or stacking cells to reduce bandgap-related losses may be important. Flexible and tile- or shingle-like substrates or semi-transparent installations that allow light to pass through crops or building interiors can also come across. Overall, the plan calls for a total cost reduction of nearly half from today’s $1.30/watt to an average of $0.70 by 2030 and more thereafter.
Solar concentrators get their title in the report, and many companies are looking to replace industrial processes. These will likely not be used to support the grid at large, but will nonetheless replace many fossil fuel based processes.
more energy storage
An unavoidable consequence of getting your energy from the Sun is that at night you must rely on stored energy in some form, originally nuclear or coal. Is. With maximum usage covered by renewable energy, cities can safely transition away from carbon-based energy sources.
While we often think of energy storage in terms of batteries, and of course they will exist, the amount of energy that must be stored governs something like a lithium-ion battery as the primary storage mechanism. . Instead, the excess energy can be harnessed to power energy-hungry renewable fuel production such as hydrogen fuel cells. This fuel can be used to generate electricity when solar cannot meet the demand.
This is just an “off the top of the head” answer. As stated in the report: “Thermal, chemical and mechanical storage technologies are in various stages of development, including pumped thermal storage, liquid air energy storage, novel gravity-based technologies and geological hydrogen storage.”
There is no doubt that a variety of new and old technologies will be at work to provide varying levels of energy redundancy and storage life needs of the country. These will go a long way towards enabling solar and other renewable energy sources to be dependent on a higher proportion of demand.
low soft cost
If we are going to double and double the rate of solar cell deployment, the cost will have to be reduced not only for the cells themselves, but for the entire end-to-end process: evaluation, accounting, labor and of course profit. Because of the companies that would be doing the actual work.
Reducing non-hardware costs is already the goal of many startups, such as Aurora Solar, which saw clear writing on the wall and started planning, envisioning and selling solar installations entirely online as much as possible. Started making it easy.
Right now the total cost of a solar roof can be double or more than the cost of the hardware. There are many contributors to this, from financing to regulations to markets, and each has its own intricacies beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that if you can make one cent less than the cost of a solar installation by streamlining the time or cost involved in any of these areas, that’s more than enough to turn that one point into a sizable amount. Will happen. To do so would require the combined efforts of many organizational and business minds, just as many scientific efforts are needed to improve PV.
one lakh jobs
Last but certainly not least, one has to actually do All this work. That means a lot of labor – a quarter-million people currently estimated to be involved in the solar industry in the country is many times more.
Jobs in this sector will run the gamut from skilled workers with construction experience, to energy professionals who manage the grid, to the public-private partnership wizards who link commerce to the government’s inevitable top-down incentives. The additional half a million to one million jobs will almost certainly include many new companies and sub-industries, but so far the typical breakdown has been around 65 percent installation and project development, 25 percent sales and construction, and the remainder in diverse roles. .
However, it is worth noting that the energy concerns currently associated with white knuckles for the aging oil and coal infrastructure will need to be corrected by the thousands of people they still employ, and the renewable energy sector. An ideal transition location. “During the transition, some fossil fuel companies could escalate into financial trouble,” the report reads, which is an understatement. The authors strongly suggest funding transition programs that cover guaranteed existing financial benefits such as training, relocation and pensions.
The report suggests that the solar industry is overwhelmingly white and male, like few others we can name, so it’s probably worth working on that front if the millions of employees are all to be equal.
You can browse the full study here.