Some critics still say that deriving significant amounts of power from the sun’s rays is a pipe dream, but a growing body of evidence is proving them wrong. As an article published in the March 16th 2011 issue of Scientific American shows, the costs of harvesting solar energy have declined dramatically over the past several decades. In fact, it appears that high efficiency solar panels are following their own version of Moore’s Law.
For those of you unfamiliar with that term, it stems from a prediction made by Gordon E. Moore, one of the founders of Intel. In 1965, he predicted that the number of transistors that could be placed on a silicon chip would double every 24 months “for at least 10 years.” The prophecy was later clarified by Intel executive David House, who said that actual chip performance would double every 18 months.
Moore’s and House’s predictions have proven uncannily correct, so much so that Intel and other chip manufacturers set their research and production goals according to them. In 1965, computers with the processing power of an arithmetic calculator filled giant rooms. Today, a single laptop computer can do vastly more work than ones built just a few years ago. As far as calculators are concerned, today we have ones that not only add and subtract, they also compute complex data using trigonometric and calculus formulas and perform other highly advanced functions – yet they fit in a shirt pocket.
Solar cell prices have followed a Moore’s Law-like trend during their history. In 1956, it cost $300 to generate a watt of electricity from sunlight. This figure fell to $50 per watt in the 1970s, then to $10 a watt during the 1990s. Today it hovers around $1.00 on average, with manufacturing prices as low as 75 cents a watt in some settings.
This amount is still prohibitively high compared to coal-fired power generation, which currently costs a shade under 10 cents per watt. However, if current trends continue, by 2030, high efficiency solar panels will generate energy at half the cost of methods that use fossil fuels. Years before then, they will be competitive with coal, oil, and hydroelectric plants on an economic basis. Additionally, that’s not taking into consideration the environmental and financial benefits of cutting the amount of greenhouse gasses pouring into the atmosphere.
Several factors are driving the reductions in expenses. The silicon wafers in solar cells can now be made more efficiently, thanks to the use of diamond-tipped industrial blades and other enhancements to the manufacturing process. Advances in software allow panel farms to track the sun’s path across the sky more precisely. Sanyo has pioneered the construction of double-sided panels, and developments in thin-film and quantum dot technologies promise a revolution in efficiency.
The potential for harvesting energy from the sun is astounding. Every day, the amount of power that reaches the earth’s surface from our home star totals 89 petawatts of power. That’s 89,000,000,000,000,000 watts, more than 6,000 times the energy consumed by all human activities in a year. By capturing 1/1000th of that energy, we could supply six times the amount of electricity needed to maintain civilization at its current level and produce virtually no pollutants in exchange. The potential benefits of pursuing solar energy stagger the imagination.
Becoming part of this revolution requires going through a variety of permit applications and inspections. Let us help you with that end of things. We can assist in expediting the permit process, allowing your project to commence faster. Also, upon completion, we can help with solar panel inspection as well, letting you enjoy the benefits of sustainable power generation sooner. Contact us today.