Every hour of every day, the sun beams more
than enough energy onto our planet to satisfy global electricity demands for an entire year.
Solar is also a fuel source that the electricity industry is really expanding into- in terms
of large commercial solar installations. Thirty years ago, solar cells could only convert
a few percent of sunlight to electricity. Today, off-the-shelf solar arrays convert
20 percent and more. The costs to install solar photovoltaic systems have dropped 40%
in three years. On the plus side, solar energy is clean and
abundant; you can do it small scale, from a few watts to recharge a cell phone to large
scale, hundreds of megawatts for industrial generation- and you can do it in remote locations,
far from the grid. But it does have negatives. It doesn’t work
when the sun doesn’t shine and even though costs are dropping, it’s still expensive to
install. Another cost of solar is the energy intensity
required in the production of the solar PV panels.
One of the elements that you don’t hear about very much with solar is: what do you with
the backend when you have to dispose of cadmium and some of the toxic elements that are used
there? Another cost that is common to both wind and
solar is the lack of storage.