Affordable solar panels are the new power generation buzzword of the 2020s and late 2010s. Silicon solar cells represent 25% of the solar market today. But that may change soon.
The excitement around solar becoming cheaper than fossil fuels has reached a high point, and for good reason.
Are you looking to understand why solar panels became cheap so fast and how they’ll change our future in a decade?
Keep reading to find out!
Why Is Solar Power Suddenly So Cheap?
Many manufacturers, local distributors, and installation contractors, like Blue Raven Solar, make solar panels available to consumers. Unfortunately, the latest technology doesn’t go from the lab to rooftops overnight. Each role plays its part in getting the benefits of lab research to consumers on a compressed timeline.
The good news is that the time from discovery to implementation in a market segment is shrinking. We can benefit from some of these discoveries in only a couple of years.
We’re only one or two years away from benefiting from the latest advanced solar technologies revolutions.
Solar panels below fossil fuel technologies are already here. What we’ll soon see is a tipping point where you’ll sound crazy about investing in fossil fuel technologies any further. Even now, major investment groups are divesting their fossil fuel holdings.
It isn’t only about climate change anymore, but about wise investing, too. The technology is finally mature enough to start reversing some of the damage from fossil fuels.
Part of what made solar power cheap so quickly in the past few years is the dramatic increase in solar cell efficiency. It isn’t just solar cell efficiency, though. The major contributors to solar taking off are:
- Efficiency increases
- Lower raw and processed material costs
- Increased solar power system longevity
- Aesthetic appearance has improved
To some, it could seem rather unimportant how a product looks as opposed to how it works. But the fate of the planet does lie in public perception. Fortunately, solar is now “cool”.
What Solar Technologies Are Currently Available?
The list of generally available solar technologies is growing yearly. Let’s take a look at the top six kinds of solar technologies still available.
- Monocrystalline silicon
- Polycrystalline silicon
- Bi-Focal or “two-faced”
- Concentrated photovoltaic (CPV)
- Solar tiles
Most solar cells will fall into generally monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film versions. Solar tiles will use one of these kinds of technologies but attaches or embeds it into a roofing tile. Solar tiles made their debut on roofs due to the efforts of Elon Musk to promote the technology.
Concentrated photovoltaic or CPV uses lenses or mirrors that direct sunlight into a specific point. It’s not usually seen in a residential setting, but rather on an industrial scale of power generation.
A more subtle, yet very important, ingredient in reducing product price is also energy storage. Efficient deep cycle battery technologies using lithium-ion are on the rise.
How Are They Made?
The typical solar panel cell is a sandwich of two silicon wafers. There is an N-type and P-type silicon layer that tightly packed together. This creates a P-N junction for electricity generation.
The N-type layer has extra electrons due to being “doped” with phosphorus or another element. The P-type layer has fewer electrons because it is more or less pure silicon. When light hits the N-type layer, it excites the material, causing a flow of electrons, which generally get caught by a metallic grid.
This flow of electrons is what we use for electricity.
Silicon wafers are made from a single crystal, thus the term monocrystalline. This crystal is cut into sheets and into rectangular squares with the round edges of the crystal remaining intact. The bits that are cut off aren’t wasted, though, and put into polycrystalline cell construction.
The excess bits are melted together to create the polycrystalline structure, which is cut into even smaller rectangles.
Thin-film PV cells are also sometimes called “second-generation” solar cells. They’re made from many different materials, such as:
- Cadmium telluride or CdTe
- Copper indium gallium selenide or CIGS
- Gallium arsenide or GaAs
- Amorphous silicon
Amorphous silicon is silicon without a crystalline structure. Each of the wafers of thin-film cells is quite thin, allowing them to be flexible. They can even be adhesive-backed for application directly to various surfaces.
Because of their small size, you have likely even seen them on portable power banks for cellphones and other mobile devices.
What’s Coming Next in Solar Panel Technology?
There is a dizzying array of next-gen technology, much of which is manufacturing techniques. One of these interesting developments is in perovskite PV cells. Another is in transparent solar technology, which harvests light from the near-Infrared and Ultraviolet light spectrums.
Even though the efficiency of the transparent solar cell technology is quite low (around 5% or less — three times less than polycrystalline cells) the variety of places it can be used discretely means that the overall impact of energy entering the grid will be massive.
Imagine, if you will, a few years from now when your phone has transparent solar cells embedded in the front and back. Even at night, it’s harvesting light from the campfire’s infrared spectrum. During the day, it’s powered by UV and NIR spectrums.
Also, imagine a few years from now when urban structures have had a transparent solar cell film applied or have been replaced with transparent cell embedded glass. Every pane in your home, apartment, or office building is now producing electricity. The sheer number of windows will reduce the need for building the roof racks in the quantity they are today.
Electricity will be produced out of sight.
Even more, there is also quantum dot photovoltaics, and organic photovoltaics being tested for efficacy and production.
Affordable Solar Panels for Everyone
Affordable solar panels are not out of reach today and they definitely will not be tomorrow. The number of emerging technologies has only hit the nail in the coffin for fossil fuels for energy generation.
One thing is for sure, the future is going to be interesting — and bright!
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