The story of solar power is one of progress. We have made great strides since the inception of this technology back in the 1970’s. But where is the solar industry going in the next 20 years? How will we use it? Will it be more widespread? We can most accurately predict the future growth of solar by examining its rise over the last 20 years and taking a look at what scientists are working on today for the advancement of tomorrow.
Solar prices have been in a constant state of freefall since the 70’s. Back in 1975, panels cost $101.05 per Watt and the world boasted an installed solar capacity of only two megawatts. In 2018, panel prices have fallen as low as a mere $0.65 per Watt, while global solar capacity has increased to an excess of 303 Gigawatts.
Looking back 20 years, we can see that 1998 solar prices were $12 per Watt, meaning that costs dropped a total of 94% in two decades. Assuming that solar rates continue to fall at the same rate of decline, then by 2038 we should see panels priced at just $0.04 per Watt. (More on affordable solar panels at PowerScout.com)
It has been estimated that, thanks to increased affordability, humanity could see 20% of global energy consumption attributed to solar power by 2027. If trends stay the same for the following decade, could we stand to see 40% of global power produced by solar in 2038?
Of course, this is assuming trends stay the same. Market advancements and more affordable materials could actually accelerate this process, granting us increased solar capacity far earlier.
Silicon, the material used to create most solar panels, has an absorption efficiency rate of only 16% to 20%. Scientists are hoping to increase efficiency in the years to come by crafting panels from new materials. Many believe that perovskite solar cells hold the key to unlocking a more efficient solar future.
A switch to perovskite would help the solar industry in a number of ways. First, these cells would be far more affordable to produce and install thanks to its natural abundance. Perovskite could totally replace traditional silicon cells or they could add to existing silicon structural designs, creating a top layer that would maximize efficiency.
Perhaps the most ambitious solar generation concept to date comes from the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), which is seeking to bypass climate issues completely by installing solar panels in space. These satellites would have direct unobstructed access to the sun’s rays. Cloud cover would never be an issue again. All gathered energy would then be transmitted wirelessly back to the surface through microwaves. JAXA hopes to produce a solar satellite with a one Giggawatt production capacity sometime in the 2030’s.