While it might seem like it, solar panels are not a new invention. In fact, they were first invented in the late 1800s, which seems like an incredibly long time ago for a technology that we’re still not using everywhere. As early as 1839, scientists like Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel were noticing that some materials could generate an electric charge from light, which fed numerous other scientists’ work and eventually resulted in the first commercial solar panel in 1881.
Fast forward to 2022, and governments worldwide are waking up to the growing crisis of climate change. With rapid change needed to fight the problem, regulations around helping countries get to net-zero emissions are starting to come into place, pushing business owners to make changes to the way that they operate. While many companies are already ahead of the curve, for others, they’ll need to pivot to new technology to help reduce their impact on the planet that we all share.
But some people are reluctant to move to solar. Historically, the panels have been expensive, and somewhat clunky to look at. For big buildings, there’s also maintenance to consider, as birds sometimes choose to nest under the panels, and it’s important to keep them clean to get the most efficiency out of the sunlight hours. But since we can no longer ignore the need to move to greener energy sources, solar panels are the way to go. Let’s take a look at how they’ve improved over the years, and why they’re still a good idea for homes and businesses.
While each solar panel might look like one flat surface, they’re actually made up of multiple silicon cells. Silicon is used in about 95% of all solar panels. When the sunlight hits the panels, the electrons are loosened, creating the photovoltaic effect which then is used to generate electricity.
In the past, solar panels were highly inefficient, as they weren’t yet made of silicon. This meant that a lot of the potential energy was wasted, and so they weren’t seen as desirable assets. But when Bell Labs created the first silicon panel, this increased the efficiency, and now solar panels are closer to 20-30% efficient. This is only likely to increase as technology continues to advance.
There are panels with higher efficiency available, but the high cost means that it’s not a logical choice for many buyers, especially companies that will need to cover large surface areas to generate the amount of energy they need.
Solar panels used to be an expensive investment, due to a combination of new technologies and the specialist skills needed to install the panels. The manufacturing price was also high, which meant that many people couldn’t afford to buy solar panels, or didn’t think they were worth the expense.
However, prices are now falling steadily. Solar cost $3.17 per watt in the early part of 2017, but in the latter half of 2021 only cost $2.77. This reduction in cost is making solar panels much more affordable and accessible to a variety of buyers, from people looking to create green energy at home, to businesses looking to power their offices and factories.
There’s even a theory that explains how solar panel costs fall over time, and why. Richard Swanson theorized that the price of solar modules will decrease by 20% every time global solar capacity doubles. If this is true, it’s a promising outlook for the future.
It’s also worth noting that it’s beneficial to combine solar panels with a solar storage battery so that the electricity is there when you need it. This can help combat the issues of grey winter months. Especially as energy prices are on the rise, but the cost of installing solar storage systems is decreasing, solar can offer a legitimate solution if you consider the return on investment over time.
Perhaps one of the most exciting innovations of the future that is starting now is solar glass. This technology makes use of solar energy in the same way that solar panels do but instead looks exactly like traditional glass. This could help hugely with the amount of energy that we can generate, as modern design tends to favor large expanses of glass, creating an indoor/outdoor space and feel.
The University of Michigan, which created the solar glass, estimates that there are 5-7 billion square meters of window glass in the US, which just goes to show the massive amount of potential for this surface area. The hope is that this could power 40% of the country, and if businesses were included in this statistic, even more, would be possible. When combined with rooftop solar panels, the amount of power generated would be significant, which would be a huge step forward for countries worldwide, as we strive to do better for the environment.
As things continue to change and evolve, we should see more progress with solar panels and their improvements. Want to see what else is going on with sustainable technology? Check out the sustainable technology innovations over at Trusted Reviews and see what else is happening in this field.
About the Author: Elizabeth Long graduated with a degree in English Language, and then traveled to different countries in order to expand my views, and experience different cultures. I now write meaningful posts, designed to give readers helpful take-home points that they can act on in their own lives.
Photo by Nuno Marques, Anders J and Manny Becerra on Unsplash