The United States currently relies heavily upon fossil fuels to generate most of its energy. But as we all know, these sources pull from finite and rapidly dwindling resources that carry serious environmental and climate impacts.
In fact, a recent report reveals 42% of global coal capacity is currently unprofitable, and the U.S. could save $78 billion by closing coal-fired power plants. Solar energy, on the other hand, is in constant supply as long as the sun shines and is the cleanest and most abundant renewable energy source available.
Today, solar energy is used to generate electricity, provide light, heat water for a variety of applications and much more. In order to meet energy needs and reduce carbon emissions, we need to continue to support innovations in solar technology.
"Despite the growing adoption of renewable energy, solar technology innovations are still required to help deliver more clean energy into more homes and businesses as quickly as possible"
Bringing the Cost Down
Despite multiple reports showing that the cost of solar energy system installation is falling, solar energy only accounts for 2.3% of electricity generation in the U.S. And with feed-in tariffs going away and the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) being reduced, innovations aimed at bringing the cost of solar energy generation down will only become increasingly important.
Through technological improvements, innovations in design and better solar modules, we’ve seen the cost of installing a solar energy system fall. And in order to continue solar power's rapid growth, we must take steps to support its continued acceleration.
Bifacial solar modules are one of the most promising innovations in solar power right now. They can produce power from both sides of the panel, ultimately increasing total energy generation. Traditional panels are monofacial and don’t allow any energy gain from the backside.
However, the inherent (and not-yet-solved) challenge with bifacial is the unpredictability of the power output due to its dependence on reflectivity. Although it’s difficult to model what the solar module will produce, advances in bifacial technology are bringing the cost structure down. Bifacial modules are truly the future of the industry.
Solar Plus Storage
While solar panels collect sunlight and transform it into electricity, they do not possess the ability to store that energy for later use — and that presents both a problem and a great opportunity for combining solar with energy storage. Over the past few years, the energy storage market has matured as regulators have started issuing guidance on the extent energy storage will be used as the grid diversifies and electricity demand increases.
Why storage? Beyond the potential for spectacular growth in the solar sector, energy storage can smooth electricity prices, mitigate the risk of curtailment, provide backup power and more. As solar energy becomes cheaper and more widely used, the market for energy storage grows, and the challenge lies in making the batteries and other devices that store it affordable.
The U.S. must take greater advantage of solar energy to generate electricity, and fostering continued innovation is one way to drive the cost of solar energy down. Despite the growing adoption of renewable energy, solar technology innovations are still required to help deliver more clean energy into more homes and businesses as quickly as possible.
Tim Jordan is Vice President of Solar Construction with RES (Renewable Energy Systems), the world’s largest independent producer of renewable energy. He oversees all utility-scale solar construction projects for RES in North America.