Solar power has developed past being a futuristic idea and is now a part of our daily lives, making it possible to power our homes while protecting the environment. However, even with all the advantages this green energy produces, it’s not a perfect system. Solar power still faces obstacles that keep it from being entirely green and entirely cost-effective.
Yet new technology and tactics have emerged to counter these problems. Here are a few issues solar power faces, and what is being done to overcome them:
1. Balancing power, water, and agriculture
Most solar panels are placed in arid deserts since these areas have both lots of space and lots of sun. Most of these areas cannot be farmed, making it a perfect use for the land. However, solar panels do require water to wash off the dust that’s a natural problem in the desert. Wasting water for just one purpose does not counter the benefits of solar energy, but does dampen the idea of using all aspects of nature to keep our power on. Corn and other grains are often grown on farmlands for ethanol, but aren’t well suited for the unfarmed lands solar panels take up.
Agave is a plant that grows naturally in the areas best chosen for solar panels, and when given a lot of water, explodes in population. Agave is also known as a much better source of ethanol, which we can then use as fuel to power our society. This makes it a perfect crop for solar panel fields, putting the water to better use and boosting our power production.
2. Electrical overload
The weather has a mind of its own and sometimes decides to remind us who is in charge. With solar power soaking up the sun, occasionally too much exposure will lead to too much energy being absorbed – too much for the grid to handle, which may lead to it frying altogether. This can lead to outages, not to mention the cost and time it takes to repair the damage done.
By ridding itself of the additional overwhelming power, the grid can balance once again and continue as it was intended. Dispelling the power comes in the form of paying electricity services to take the extra power, which may seem like a strange concept but, in fact, saves money and time for the future.
3. Power storage
Solar power seems like a fantastic idea for gathering 'free' energy, but the reason we still face power outages and shortages is due to one very simple problem: storing energy is both costly and extremely difficult. All the power generated from a solar panel may be wasted if it’s not used in time, and it’s almost impossible to store enough to power an entire city if it faces a high number of cloudy days.
A new kind of battery known as the 3D battery is being developed to solve this problem. In bypassing the traditional 2D structure, which is liquid electrolyte inside of a thin metal casing, the 3D battery will be more sponge-like and capable of both absorbing and storing more energy, and doing so several times by being recharged. This will allow energy to be kept pure for longer for use for everything from electronics to converged infrastructure, and with its reusable design, the 3D can take a variety of shapes and be produced at a lower price.
4. Expensive thin-film modules
The thin-film you see on solar panels is what actually absorbs the energy we use for everything, and while the amount it absorbs now is acceptable, the production of solar panels is still a costly venture. Lowering the price of energy isn’t going to happen fast enough with the amount of money being spent on the entire venture.
The startup Sol Voltaics has created gallium arsenide nanowires, which are incredibly thin and also incredibly conductive. By pairing them with the thin-film solar modules, they can improve the energy absorption rate by as much as 50%, allowing power companies to gain much more power at a much lower cost; a saving that can then be applied to building new solar fields and lowering the cost of energy all around.