Head back a few years and there were plenty of detractors who thought solar power generation was a lost cause. They said its success was vastly overstated and that it wouldn’t be able to survive without damaging subsidies which put too much pressure on the poor tax payer.
In recent times, solar prices have dropped and more and more panels have appeared on land and on rooftops.
The solar revolution, according to advocates, is now unstoppable. According to executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Dr Fatih Birol:
“We see renewables growing by about 1,000 GW by 2022, which equals about half of the current global capacity in coal power, which took 80 years to build. What we are witnessing is the birth of a new era in solar PV. We expect that solar PV capacity growth will be higher than any other renewable technology through 2022.”
What’s Driving Solar Power?
The biggest driver of solar power is undoubtedly China at the moment. Their investment in the sector and their desire to push the envelope has been dramatic to say the least. The fairly recent change in events in the country have been unprecedented.
A few decades ago, China had barely a solar industry to talk of – between 2008 and 2013, however, it suddenly burst onto the scene and was a major cause of prices coming down across the globe in the process. Now China is the leading solar innovator – they understand how important it is for the world’s energy mix and they also see a big commercial profit in it. Not only is solar bringing in huge amounts of revenue, it’s creating an awful lot of jobs.
We’ve also, as many experts point out, gone past the tipping point with renewables. Public opinion is more on board than it has ever been. According to the Guardian recently:
“New solar capacity even overtook the net growth in coal, previously the biggest new source of power generation. The shift was driven by falling prices and government policies, particularly in China, which accounted for almost half the solar panels installed.”
Why Battery Storage is Vital for Solar
The key factor that is set to underpin all renewable technologies, but particularly solar and wind, is energy storage. Currently we have a problem. When the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow, these installations don’t produce electricity. This is definitely an issue with solar, which only produces it’s electricity at certain times of the day. If we can store that power and release it to the grid when it’s most needed, in the evenings, then solar suddenly becomes a lot more viable than tech such as nuclear.
The technology in this area isn’t quite there just yet but there have been some major steps forward in recent times. While it’s still fairly expensive, you can expect the cost to come down in the same way that solar panels have as competition increases and the technology improves. And you can expect it to happen quickly.
The Future of Solar Power in the UK
The solar industry took a hit at the beginning of last year and it’s had an impact. Initial news of companies going out of business, however, seem to have settled down. The cost of panels and installation is now at the lowest it’s ever been and those with the money are still investing. Regions like London, after a stall in installations, are introducing new and innovative ways to get solar installed including reverse auctions that allow interested parties to pool their resources to get projects off the ground.
This summer, solar power broke another record and provided a quarter of the UK’s electricity needs in May. Taking into account all other renewables, a total of 60% of the energy at that time was provided by low carbon technology. According to Ben Warren of EY’s renewable energy practice, the hard times in the last 12 months may well have equipped the solar industry in the UK for the future:
“By ‘growing up’ in the environment in which they have, solar developers have had to be very dynamic and tough. As it moves into an unsubsidised market and this uncertainty drifts away, it provides a much more sustainable platform on which to build these businesses rather than being purely responsive.”
For many, we’re at the start of an energy revolution that will transform how we generate power across the globe. Solar’s part in that is almost assured.