The Solar Revolution

The Solar Revolution

By Francois Callewaert

If you are wondering what will be the main source of energy in the future, then solar energy is most probably the answer. Why solar energy? Because it is abundant, clean, economical and the technology to do so is readily available.

Abundant? The sun provides us as much energy in a month as the combined reserves of coal, oil, natural gas and uranium, which is 1000 times higher than our total energy consumption!

Clean? Solar panels are made of sand, one of the most common components on earth. Additionally, one panel produces as much energy as needed for its fabrication in just about 2 years. This means that the next 48 years (assuming a 50 years lifetime) are surplus.

Then, how come solar energy isn’t already our largest source of energy? The reason lies in technology and economics: solar panels have been historically very expensive to manufacture. Before 2008, solar energy was much more expensive than conventional sources, with a price higher than $3/W.


But in 2008, a revolution began: China started to invest massively in solar cell production and the cost dropped by almost 10 times in a few years. In the last few years, solar energy has become cost-competitive with most other sources of energy in most parts of the world.


The effects are really impressive. Governments, banks, companies and individuals started to invest massively in solar energy. In just 5 years, in the US, solar installations increased by a factor of 20. Figure 1.1 shows how this increase has evolved over the past 14 years. This generated an economic activity in the order of $20 billion just last year, and created thousands of jobs: more than 170,000 people currently work in the solar power industry in the US alone. Even more impressive is that solar energy has become the second largest source of new electricity capacity in the US in the last 2 years (Fig. 1.2), and is expected to become the first by 2016.


The entire world is going solar: China is installing as much solar panels every year to cover the entire US capacity. India has just announced a plan for 100GW solar energy production by 2022 and even Saudi Arabia is massively investing in solar energy! At this pace, solar energy could represent more than 20% of the world’s electricity consumption by 2040, saving billions of tons of coal from burning in the atmosphere and helping reduce our carbon impact.

The solar revolution is on the way and the future is brighter than ever.


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