Solar is just one of many sustainable energies that could lead the way to a green power revolution. Though solar power is becoming more and more viable every day, there are still issues to overcome before entire countries can depend on the sun as a source of energy.
If we're to finally phase out fossil fuels for good, solar power needs to get better. Here are just some of the issues that experts are trying to address in the fight to make the world a greener place.
1. Elon Musk: Solar Power Needs to be Integrated
Elon Musk's vision of a solar-powered future doesn't stop at solar panels on roofs - he wants entire integrated systems to dominate homes and businesses all over the world. He imagines a future where solar roofing tiles feed into power walls, which in turn power electric cars.
Speaking in 2016, Musk said, "The key is it needs to be beautiful, affordable and seamlessly integrated." His point is clear - if solar power is to become a dominant power source, there has to be integrated infrastructure both privately and publicly to support that generation of energy.
2. Maria Van Der Hoeven: We Need to Lower the Cost of Solar Power
Director of the International Energy Agency, Maria van der Hoeven, has addressed her concerns over the prohibitive cost of solar power technologies. She believes that in order to make a full switch to clean, renewable energy, solar power generation will have to become far less expensive.
In a statement from last year she said, "Lowering the cost of capital is thus of primary importance for achieving the vision in these roadmaps." Sadly it's not enough for solar power to be cleaner than fossil fuels - its implementation has to be cheaper too if its to overtake other forms of power generation.
3. Matthew Lumb: Solar Cells Need to Be More Efficient
One of the biggest hurdles currently facing solar cells is their efficiency. At present, many cells are simply unable to capture the full potential of the sun's energy. Matthew Lumb, a researcher at George Washington University, is one of many scientists seeking to resolve this issue.
According to Lumb, "Conventional materials for high-efficiency multi-junction solar cells cannot capture this entire spectral range." Last year Lumb and his team revealed their work on a solar cell that could be created via transfer-printing, and was able to convert 44.5% of the available solar energy into usable electricity. Breakthroughs like this could help move along the progress of solar power as we know it.
4. Xiaozhou Che: We Need to Rethink How We Build Solar Cells
As previously stated, current solar cells are not functioning at peak efficiency. University of Michigan student, Xiaozhou Che, however, might have struck upon a method of boosting efficiency through a new method of creating solar cells.
In a study published in Nature Energy in April of this year, Che explained that by stacking cells on top of one another, "we increase light absorption and efficiency improves to 15 percent with an antireflection coating." This approach could help revolutionize how solar cells are manufactured, and lead to more efficient solar panels overall.
5. Allaard van Hoeken: Solar Structures Need to be Sturdier
One issue currently surrounding the topic of solar power is that of land use. To power cities and nations, a great deal of land must be sacrificed to solar farms. However, some nations are turning to other methods for harnessing the sun's power. Take, for example, the Netherlands who are planning to build a solar farm at sea.
Oceans of Energy CEO, Allaard van Hoeken, spoke about the project in February of this year, noting, "Solar farms are already being deployed at inshore water bodies such as lakes, but a project at sea has never been done before as this is much more challenging." The harsh winds and waves off coasts can make the installation and maintenance of an off-shore solar farm difficult. If this solution is to become widespread globally, solar power technologies will have to become sturdier in order to withstand the weather conditions.
6. Justin Lapp: We Need Solar Power That Works Around the Clock
Harnessing the sun's power on a bright day is all very well and good, but what happens when night falls? Or if it's overcast? This issue is one that many scientists have fretted over. University of Maine professor, Justin Lapp, says, "Solar reactors in the past have had the problem of what you do at night when you don't have sun, or even when clouds go by."
Lapp worked on CONTISOL - a dual reactor that could store energy and allow for the sunlight to process chemicals. The chemical reactions allow for the storage to keep a steady temperature, meaning no power is lost when the reactor cools at night or in low light. Technologies like these are vital if we're to establish dependable solar power.
7. Bernadette Del Chiaro: We Haven't Prepared Enough For Solar Power
In recent years California has seen a huge spike in its generation of solar power.
Often the state produces too much clean energy, and has to export their power to neighboring states. The surge is due to the duck curve effect - where high levels of power are generated during the day, but drop off steeply in the evening hours.
This obviously presents problems, as there's an over-abundance of power generated throughout the day and not enough at night. The executive director of the California Solar and Storage Association, Benadette Del Chiaro, is reminding citizens that solar power has to be a two-pronged approach - "You should really think of this mandate as solar on the roof, battery in the garage."
Without proper planning and infrastructure, a lot of clean energy is going to waste.
8. Lu Fang: Solar Power Isn't As Clean As You Think It Is
We often think of renewable energies as clean sources of power, but could there be a hidden environmental cost to these energies? Few people realize that solar panels can't function forever, and typically have a shelf life of 20 - 30 years. When those years are up, solar panels are typically destined for the dump, which is where things start to get worrying.
According to the secretary general of the photovoltaics decision in the China Renewable Energy Society, Lu Fang, the potential waste of solar panels is something we all need to be aware of. In an article she wrote, Fang pointed out that by 2034 we'll have accumulated 70 gigawatts of retired panels. At present, solar panels are incredibly difficult to recycle. Issues of waste resulting from solar panels should not be ignored until it's too late.
9. Steve Bergens: We Need To Improve Power Storage
Further blighting solar's issues with efficiency at the moment is the problem of storage. At present, we simply don't have the diversity of storage solutions needed in order to effectively contain power generated during the day. Steve Bergens from the University of Alberta is just one scientist working to find a solution.
Bergens believes that instead of storing energy in a battery, it would be more effective to store solar energy in hydrocarbon fuels. Speaking in April of this year, Bergens said, “This isn’t going to happen tomorrow. But in the medium term, it could buy us time to roll out new fuels that use something other than carbon.” It's a worthy endeavor, and one that could make a huge difference when it comes to implementing solar energy globally.