Primitive people once looked to the sun for clues of their future: for their crop cycles, their superstitions, weather, even for hints of their ancestors. Today, mankind still looks to the sun. He intends to capture a slice of the 0.00000000045 percent of its radiant energy that travels 93 million miles to bake the crust of this pale blue dot – and hopefully, just hopefully, will power our smartphones.
In 1975, all the globe’s phovoltaic solar panels generated just two megawatts of power, and the average price per watt was amind-boggling $101.25.Solar energy was less practical than a human hamster wheel generator. Fast-forward 40 years. Worldwide, solar power collectively generates more than 65,000 megawatts, and the price per watt has fallen to $0.61, less than a chocolate candy bar.
Yet a few years ago, pundits warned that the golden age of solar power was waning. The efficiency of monocrystalline silicon cells was tapped out, they said. Government tax credits were expiring in December 2016, they said. The glut of domestic oil from fracking would drown out solar improvements, they forecasted.
Such speculations have proven pessimistic and unfounded. Consider, for instance, theperovskite solar cell.Pervoskite is a calcium titanate mineral that holds great promise for photovoltaic power generation. In 2009, scientists took a crack at a perovskite solar cell. They whipped up some tiny lab samples and achieved a dismal five percent efficiency, some four times less than the leading commercial silicon cells. Not ones to be fazed by reality, the scientists kept finagling with the design, and today, these cheap n’ easy solar cells claim efficiencies of more than 20 percent. Engineers have yet to design a reliable method of mass production, but researchers hope to make a commercially viable technology within 5-10 years. Fun fact: Perovskite cells can be made transparent. Solar-powered windows, anyone?
Not only have scientists stayed on top of things, but in an even greater feat of wonder,so has Congress.On December 18, 2015, the federal legislature approved a 5-year extension to the federal solar tax credit, which allows commercial and residential customers to deduct 30 percent of the installation cost from their taxes. That number drops to 26 percent in 2020, 22 percent in 2021, and disappears entirely for residential customers afterwards. Commercial solar energy systems remain eligible for a 10 percent cost deduction.
Bigger names than Congress have horned in on the action.Apple, Google and Elon Muskhave all pledged millions to purchase solar-energy electricity or sponsor the creation of new solar power generation plants. Although China currently claims the world’s largest photovoltaic power station, California is a close second. Located in the sunny, fair climate near Los Angeles, the Solar Star facility generates 579 megawatts using 1.7 million solar panels, enough to power some 200,000 homes.
The pessimistic pundits were wrong in 1975. They were wrong in 2000, wrong ind in 2015, and will likely be wrong again in 2021 when the residential tax credit expires. Solar power continues to get hotter and hotter.