Given the current energy crisis and the increasing importance of low carbon, locally secured energy generation, the role of renewable energy is ever more important. Rahul Sen Sharma, Managing Partner of Indxx, talks us through the role of solar and some of the market opportunities being created by new technologies and approaches.
The world has an energy problem: from alarming levels of carbon emissions, pollution and greenhouse gases, to increases in global warming due to the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation.
There has never been a better time to shift to renewable sources, as it can help to offset emissions and to reduce the further destruction of the environment.
Under the Paris Agreement on climate change, participating entities decided to earmark 2050 as the target date for net zero emissions. This will require a substantial shift to renewable energy in the near and immediate future.
Specifically, solar energy is gaining popularity as a preferred alternative in the market due to its decline in terms of cost and subsequent increase in production capacity. The solar energy market was valued at $85.1 billion in 2021 and is estimated to reach $255.3 billion by 2028.
Solar’s continued growth
Global warming and other climate issues caused by heat-producing greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and ozone depletion have been a major worldwide concern for decades.
As global warming is an imminent threat to our environment, government policies and sustainable initiatives alike have encouraged the transition from non-renewable energy sources to renewable energy at scale.
Solar energy adoption is increasing to rising levels investment, expansion of production capacity as well as a growing preference for sustainable, cleaner sources of energy.
Additionally, supportive government regulations and subsidies, growth in concentrated solar power and advancements of solar battery technology are making this transition easier and more viable.
Since 2007, annual installations of photovoltaic (PV) power generation have grown from 22 GWs to about 240 GWs expected in 2022, with a compound rate of 34.5%. This figure alone makes solar the fastest growing source of electricity in the United States, and that pattern is being replicated around the world.
This explosive growth is due in part to a significant decrease in solar production costs over the past decade— where today, solar energy has a competitive advantage to coal and fossil fuels in terms of price.
Technological improvements and continued adoption are expected to further reduce costs associated with the production and utility of solar infrastructure. In 2021, the cost of electricity from solar PV generation decreased by 13% YoY while the cost of fossil fuels increased.
The cost of solar is expected to halve from its current price by 2030. Solar PV systems have become the most competitive energy resource in the market after an 82% cost decline between 2010 and 2019.
Investments in the solar industry have also increased over the years. In the first half of 2022, global investments in renewable energy totaled $226 billion with $41 billion investment into large- scale solar projects, reflecting the demand for clean energy amid the ongoing climate crisis. With growth at that scale, global solar power capacity has the potential to grow from 800 GWs in 2021 to as many as 14000 GWs by 2050.
Transformation through innovation
Solar companies have leaned into innovation in order to maximize efficiencies and create new materials and approaches to drive widespread deployment of the technologies.
Bifacial Photovoltaics (BPV) maximize panel efficiencies
In doing so, researchers have developed a bifacial silicon solar cell. Bifacial photovoltaics (BPV) is a rapidly growing technology in which the opaque side of the solar panel is replaced with glass to capture the light from both sides of the panel. Unlike the traditional solar panel which captures the light from the side facing the sun, BPVs improve the rate of electrification.
Instead of one prominent peak at noon, a vertical eastwest mounting of a BPV provides two production peaks, one in the morning and one in the evening. Bifacial silicon solar cell provides an efficiency of 24.3% on the front and 23.4% on the rear, increasing the effective output to around 29%.
Harnessing solar energy isn’t limited to the installation of large and bulky solar panels. With the invention of thin-film technology, solar energy solutions are more accessible to more users.
Solar thin films are made by depositing one or more thin layers, or thin films of photovoltaic material on glass, plastic, or metal. The thickness of the film varies from a few nanometres to tens of nanometres. Thin solar cells are light weight, easy to handle and cheaper than traditional panels.
Some of the benefits are that they are more flexible than conventional solar cells and can be converted into rolls. This is not only cost effective but also extends solar power’s potential use cases.
Floating Solar Panels
Floating panels are an affordable and sustainable option for using unused water surfaces in reservoirs or lakes to generate renewable solar electricity. Floating solar panels or ‘floatovoltaics’ as they are increasingly known, are solar panels mounted on a floating structure in a body of water.
Floatovoltaics can be rotated horizontally or vertically to capture sunlight from different angles. The main advantage of floating solar platforms is that they don’t require extensive land use and compared to land panels, they are more compact and easier to manufacture. The global floating panels market was valued at $700 million and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 43.02% between 2022 to 2031.
The Overlooked & Underappreciated Areas of Solar
The solar rooftop market is expected to grow at more than 15% during between 2022-2027.
The solar rooftop market was mostly unaffected and even witnessed growth during the pandemic due to an influx of renovation and construction projects. Factors driving the growth of rooftop solar are rising environmental concerns and increased power grid expansion costs (especially in rural areas).
The market has a potential to grow but the lack of awareness is one of the biggest restraints for further growth.
Currently, positively charged silicon material is being used for solar panels. However, a shift from positive charge silicon material to negatively charged material or N-type products can deliver an increase in power.
Doping polysilicon with a small amount of an element with an extra electron forms N- type material. The doped polysilicon might be more expensive, but can be 3.5% more powerful than current solar panels.
The doped material products are expected to be the dominant material of solar panels by 2028.