41 Latest Solar Energy Facts You Need to Know
Solar energy is becoming more and more popular as people become more environmentally conscious. This article will discuss the latest solar energy facts you need to know in 2023.
We will explore the potential of solar power, its advantages and disadvantages, and the challenges it faces. Stay tuned for an informative, fact-based post that will give you a clear picture of the current state of solar energy! To make the orientation easier, we have split the article into different sections.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Before we get into the article, I want to briefly discuss how solar panels work. To explain it, I found this excellent explanation video on youtube for you. It explains the topic well and makes the technology easy to understand.
Current State of Solar Energy
The top five countries for solar power capacities back in 2019 were China, the United States, India, Japan, and Germany. They all had solar power capacities of over 50 gigawatts except for India and Germany, with a total of just over 40 gigawatts.
As a matter of fact, solar energy is the fastest-growing renewable source of energy globally. The global solar PV capacity is expected to reach almost 650 gigawatts by 2030. This would increase from the current installed capacity of close to 400 gigawatts.
The total solar electricity generation capacity worldwide was almost two terawatts in 2019. This is enough to provide electricity to more than 500 million households!
According to the energy information administration, solar energy will provide roughly 12% of the renewable energy production in the United States in 2021. Wind energy sustained approximately 27% of total production in the sustainable energy mix; hydropower contributed around 19%. However, the total amount of all sustainable energy sources is only 12%.
Nevertheless, fossil fuels like natural gas (38%) and coal (22%) were still the most significant energy sources in 2021. But the downsides like pollution, carbon footprint, and carbon dioxide emissions are considerable.
Currently, the two main types of solar power are solar photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP). Solar photovoltaics generate power by converting sunlight into electricity using solar cells. Concentrating solar-thermal control uses mirrors to focus sunlight onto a receiver, which converts solar radiation into heat. This same heat is then used to generate electricity through a turbine or engine.
American solar power jobs have increased by more than 160% in the past 20-30 years and much faster than the average economic growth in the United States. Today, more than 250’000 people are working in this industry nationwide.
The world’s largest thermal energy plant is the solar power plant Ivanpah in California. The solar farm has a capacity of 392 MW and costs close to three billion dollars to build.
The world’s largest photovoltaic power station is Longyangxia Dam Solar Park in China, with 850 megawatts (MW) capacity. The solar park covers an area of 27 square kilometers (km) and costs $US 750 million to build.
The average solar panels cost dropped by more than 70% between 2010 and 2020. In some cases, solar is already cheaper than coal and natural gas. The price of solar will continue to drop as technology improves and solar farms become larger. Today, renewable energy is often cheaper than fossil fuels. This is important as solar power becomes increasingly important to control a large variety of applicants, from cars to generators and TVs.
Solar Energy Facts: Potential Of Solar Power
Renewable energy, particularly solar energy, provides cheaper electricity generation than current methods, but it requires a shift in the mindset. In this section, we will discuss solar energy facts to encourage this transition because the potential of solar power as source of energy is enormous.
It may surprise, but 173’000 terawatts of solar power strike the earth continuously. This solar energy is, in theory, more than enough to meet the world’s current and future energy needs many times over.
Solar power is such a high potential energy source that by installing solar panels on 22’000 square miles (the size of Michigan), solar energy could power the entire United States, according to the solar energy industries association.
Around the world, solar photovoltaic cells could provide up to 40% of the world’s energy needs. The US Department of Energy believes solar power could provide more than 80% of America’s electricity by 2050.
The Mojave desert in California has the potential to generate energy equivalent to all the oil ever used in the United States. The Gobi desert has the potential to create solar energy equivalent to all the coal burned in human history.
Advantages of Solar Power
Solar technology has many advantages compared to fossil fuels. Around the world, the solar industry has the world’s most significant potential, and solar energy is cheaper than ever.
One of the main benefits of solar energy is that there are no CO2, methane, and other emissions after production, and it is among the cleanest energy sources available.
Solar power is a high-potential renewable energy source that will never run out. The sun has been shining for billions of years and will continue to do so for billions more. Solar power is also much more sustainable to the environment than fossil fuels. Burning coal and oil release harmful gases into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
Luckily, a solar panel system is relatively easy to install on almost any roof, and the energy source doesn’t have the disadvantages of noise disruption, smell, or the need for a large land area that solar power plants have. The US department of energy estimates that the average solar panel system will pay for itself in seven to eight years.
Solar technology is constantly improving, making solar panels more efficient and cheaper to produce. This means that solar power will become increasingly competitive with traditional energy sources.
Solar energy is a clean, renewable power source that can positively impact the economy. The solar industry provides many jobs for people in various fields, including manufacturing, installation, and maintenance. In addition, solar energy can help to lower electric bills and create tax revenue for local governments.
Another great advantage of solar power is the fact that it reduces the redundancy of politically unstable countries or regions. Fossil fuels such as oil and gas are often imported from countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia, or Venezuela. Solar energy and other renewable energy sources can help to make America and other countries energy-independent.
An average household in the US can save $600 per year on their electricity bill by installing solar panels. Solar power can also help businesses save money. In addition, solar energy is the cheapest source of new generating capacity in many parts of the world.
The life span of modern solar panels is up to 30 years, and the solar energy industry is working on further improving that life span. Since there are no moving parts, it requires only low maintenance efforts after installing a solar cell.
Disadvantages of Solar Power
One disadvantage to mention when it comes to adverse facts about solar energy is that it needs sunlight to produce energy. Solar Panels and solar power plants are not producing power at night, and the efficiency is severely reduced in cloudy weather.
Another disadvantage of solar energy at the moment is its efficiency. The average solar panel is only 17%-25% efficient. This rating relates to how much available energy a panel can convert into usable electricity. Combined with the high energy consumption during the manufacturing process and the chemicals used in the production, it is evident that the technology isn’t perfect yet.
The next downside is that solar panels have a high energy consumption during manufacturing and produce toxic waste. They also contain heavy metals such as cadmium and lead, which can pollute the environment if not disposed of properly.
While it doesn’t necessarily need to be a disadvantage, it is still essential to know: Of the world’s ten biggest solar panel manufacturing companies, seven are producing in China.
The last point is the relatively high initial cost of installing a solar panel. A solar photovoltaic (PV) system will cost you between $11,140 and $14,480 after solar tax credits, while the average U.S. home solar installation cost is $12,840. However, solar panels have become more affordable in recent years due to falling prices and increasing efficiency.
Solar Energy Facts: Current Challenges Of Solar Power
An important challenge of solar power that is often underestimated is the current infrastructure. The existing infrastructure in the US and most countries worldwide is not designed to handle vast amounts of solar electricity. Engineers worldwide have perfectionated the grid for fossil fuels generated power, and the infrastructure is susceptible if a large amount of solar energy is added to the sensitive system during peak times.
The intermittency of solar energy is still a challenge, as solar panels only generate electricity when the sun shines. This can be addressed by a solar-plus-storage system, which stores solar energy for use at night or on cloudy days. Most developed countries have the highest energy demand during the winter season and in the evenings when solar panels are not producing energy. Solar-plus-storage systems are becoming more common and affordable as battery prices continue to fall. Although the efficiency loss has been reduced, it is still worth mentioning. Finally, a challenge is transmitting solar energy across far distances; for example, from sunny California to the cloudy northeast is still challenging.
Although already briefly mentioned, the relatively low efficiency and the manufacturing process are still challenging for the solar energy industry. A promising idea to improve efficiency is movable panels tracking the sun to extend peak energy production. Another aspect is using more efficient solar panel materials, such as perovskites, instead of silicon. Finally, reducing harmful chemicals such as sulfuric acid and nitric acid is still an unsolved issue.
The Future Of Solar Power
A study by the US department of energy on the future of solar energy revealed that the electricity demand will grow by 30% by the end of 2035 and an additional 34% by the end of 2050. So I think this shows the importance of solar energy in the future quite nicely.
The same study found that the accumulated costs for energy decarbonization are $562 billion by the end of 2050. However, the net saving if you consider avoiding climate damages is $ 1.7 trillion.
Possible Usages Of Solar Energy
Solar companies in the US are developing near transparent cells, which could allow electricity from windows, for example.
Another possible usage of solar energy in the future could be solar roads. These are still in the testing phase, but solar roads could one day be a reality. They would generate electricity, help electric cars, and contribute to a cleaner environment.
A potential of solar energy many people are not thinking of is its usage in space. Solar panels are already powering some satellites, and solar energy could be used to power space stations or even a colony on Mars one day.
Also, in transportation, solar power has a potential future usage, for example, in solar-powered aircraft. The first solar flight was already conducted in 2016 by Piccard. The solar Impulse II flew worldwide, powered only by solar energy. However, issues in the aviation industry for commercial airplanes are that solar panels have to be very light and durable, which is still a challenge for manufacturers of solar panels.
Next on our list of potential uses of solar energy in the future is solar-powered desalination. Desalination is the process of removing salt from the water, which is a big issue in many coastal areas worldwide, as they are running out of freshwater resources. Solar energy could power the reverse osmosis process, commonly used for desalination.
Last but not least, solar energy could be used to create hydrogen fuel. This would be a renewable and emissions-free fuel that could power many things like cars or airplanes. The solar energy would split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, and the hydrogen could be stored and used as a fuel.
As you can see, solar energy has many potential, and various possible future uses. It is therefore essential to continue to research solar energy and develop new technologies to make solar power more efficient and affordable. Moreover, solarMoreover is a clean, renewable energy source that can help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and protect the environment.
All in all, solar energy has a bright future, and I am excited to see what new developments will arise in the following years.