Time to Go Solar: MIT Says Current Solar Power Tech Good Enough for the Future
Global warming, environmental degradation, and unstable energy prices are just a few of the compelling reasons why renewable or green energy is important. The benefits of green energy go beyond the need to address energy shortages worldwide. Solar energy, in particular, is a highly advantageous form of sustainable energy that does cause any pollution or affect the health of people who reside close or even within solar power plants. The good news is that an interdisciplinary MIT study considers current solar energy tech is good enough to bring the world to a green energy future.
In a 332-page report entitled “The Future of Solar Energy,” MIT researchers, under the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), asserted that the crystalline silicon photovoltaic (PV) technology that dominates the solar panels manufactured and used at present is good enough to produce terawatts of power by 2050. A terawatt is equivalent to a million megawatts.
The study, according to MITEI Director Robert Armstrong, aimed to evaluate solar energy’s current and potential competitive position and to identify changes in governmental policies that will help in massively deploying solar energy systems over the long term. The research was presented to lawmakers and public officials in the United States capital.
What Makes Current Technology “Good Enough”
The leading solar PV technology at present is the wafer-based crystalline silicon (c-Si) and is deemed to an already mature tech. Also, large-scale manufacturing capacities for c-Si solar modules are already being used. The MIT study concludes that c-Si will continue to the leading solar panel technology within the next few decades. Moreover, if manufacturers are able to lower their dependence on silver for the electrical contacts used in this solar energy tech, expanding to terawatt scale power generation will become significantly easier. The study adds that “material inputs for c-SI PV generation are available in sufficient quantity to support the significantly increased production of solar power.
Of course, “good enough” does not equate to “perfect.” The predominant technology for solar power generation currently still has a number of limitations. Heat processing complexity, low intrinsic light absorption, and the resulting rigidity and weight of the c-Si modules are some of the most notable of these limitations. There’s still a vast room for improvement to fill. More research and development endeavors to improve solar power generation technology are needed.
Large Scale Potential
The MIT study suggests that generating power from solar energy is one of the very few low-carbon energy technologies that have the potential to grow to a very large scale. It is very likely for a massive expansion of solar power generating capacity to be achieved globally. This can be a vital component in mitigating the risks of climate change, or the continuous and rapid heating of the planet in particular.
There has been rapid growth in the installation of solar power generating systems that have also shown improvements in terms of price, technology, and performance. Moreover, creative business models (for producing and marketing solar energy systems) have also been developed. This is not to say, however, that further innovations or developments are no longer necessary. Greater efficiency and better technologies can still be achieved and will most definitely be welcomed.
If the current solar power generation technology is deemed good enough, why are governments, the private sector, and individuals not making the most out of it? The answer: cost. Cost remains to be one of the biggest hurdles in enabling the widespread use of solar energy technology. It is still expensive to have solar panels installed for commercial or residential purposes. Worse, solar power technology receives fewer subsidies compared to fossil fuels. It will certainly be helpful if more funds are available for scientists and manufacturers to be able to pursue the development of solutions to the limitations of current c-Si solar tech. A shift in government policies regarding renewable energy, likewise, will help advance the development of better solar energy technology.
In addition to the cost hurdle, it’s also important to address the complexities of integrating solar power into the grid. There is a need to develop power storage technologies that will be more suitable for the electricity generated from the sun. Likewise, it is necessary to come up with a more suitable grid infrastructure to enable the continuous transmission of solar energy (or green energy in general) during peak demand hours and even during cloudy times when the solar power generating systems are unable to produce power at a stable rate.
In sum, it can be said that solar energy technology, in its present form, still requires improvements but it is already good enough, despite its limitations, to become a dependable source of sustainable power within the next three decades. Terawatts of power can be generated by solar power plants once mass deployment becomes less difficult as the limitations of efficiency, cost, and overall module design are addressed.