Solar Power – is it the future?
Elon Musk (of Space X, Tesla and PayPal fame) has a very clear vision for the future, and this future puts removing our reliance on carbon based energy front and centre of his plans. Of course the products his companies have developed feature heavily in this plan, and are aiming to be the complete (and integrated) package to achieve this.
His vision is simple, we all fit the new SolarCity solar roof tiles to our houses (he is the majority shareholder), we connect them to a Tesla Powerwall to store the Electric (he is the driving force behind Tesla), and then run our houses and charge our Tesla cars with the stored energy. The whole system is integrated and will work together. We think this is an important and brave step into the post carbon world and added to his track record of producing inventions that work he is one voice that should be listened to.
This is very much for the ‘early adopters’ but does show what we think is a realistic direction of travel for domestic energy in the future. The problem is still the solar panels. The cheapest ones have thick glass, use cheap (ish) materials, but only convert a small percentage of the sunlight into electricity. The newer thin panels convert a lot more light into electricity, but use relatively scarce and therefore expensive materials in their build.
So the next big leap forward (and it is already starting to happen), and when it truly goes mass market (without subsidies) will be thin (and in some cases flexible) panels that convert a lot more of the light AND do not need expensive materials in their manufacture. We are getting a lot closer to this, and once the model is established there will be plenty of imitators producing cheaper versions (of the solar panels and the storage batteries at least) and the more producers there are, the faster the technology will develop.
From our perspective in the west, we see this as a way of reducing our reliance on polluting carbon based energy, helping us to improve the atmosphere and decreasing the reliance on the oil producing countries. But there is a much bigger win to be had, and that is the democratisation of power across the planet. Many of the countries that have the most reliable sunshine, so can benefit most from cheaper solar panels, have the least access to reliable electricity, and in many cases no electricity at all. This means that we will be able to provide reliable, clean & cheap electricity to remote communities without the need to connect them to an existing power grid. In some cases this could also provide a source of income with the creation of solar farms. It is hard to imagine what a massive improvement on the standard of living it will be for these remote communities.