Solar energy is a clean and renewable source of power, and it has the potential to appease the planet’s voracious appetite for energy. “Every hour the sun beams onto Earth more than enough energy to satisfy global energy needs for an entire year.”6 In fact, in 2005, it was estimated that the world consumed a grand total of consumes 15 terawatts of power in one year. One would think that with these qualities, solar power would quickly take over in energy production. A problem that has prevented this switch is the high cost of building photovoltaic cells.
However, with new developments in manufacturing processes, as well as the use of new materials, solar power is looming closer in our future. Developments like TetraSun Inc. and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s TetraCell, a new type of solar cell that replaces the use of silver with copper, with the help of a new manufacturing process, have reduced the price of solar power by using more accessible materials. The use of cadmium telluride in place of their more expensive silicon counterparts are also aiding in the drop of implementing solar powered systems. In both these cases, switch from one material to the other has also increase the efficiency of energy production.
In the lab, new discoveries have also resulted in more innovative and less costly photovoltaic systems. Silicon, used in conventional solar panels, is expensive, inefficient in the conversion of solar energy to usable electricity, and difficult to work with because of its rigidity. However, a collaborative effort between Penn State and Rice University has resulted in a new method of creating photovoltaic cells by replacing the silicon in these solar panels with organic molecules. Although the usage of organic material in place of silicon is not new, the process of combining the organic molecules to create solar cells is. Previous attempts at making organic solar panels have not been successful because of the difficulty in making these organic photovoltaic cells in larger batches, making the idea of it being used commercially impossible. This new method is a possible doorway to cheaper and more efficient solar cells in the future.
With these new developments in the solar industry, the cost of using solar power is gradually dropping. As the price of our current energy sources like oil rises, and we become more aware of not only how limited these resources are, but how harmful they are to our world and with that, solar energy pushes to the forefront as a very reasonable replacement. Solar energy is the answer to our problems. It will solve the increasing worries about the gap between the decreasing supply of fossil fuels and the vast energy needed to run a planet of 8 billion of people. It will reduce the gargantuan carbon footprint we leave behind on our home and once pristine planet. If we want changes to occur, we need to continue developing and utilizing the tools need to take advantage of the solar energy shining down on us every day.
Yu-Wen Chio, Solar Policy Intern