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The Bright Future Of Solar Power

Solar is booming. Solar power is now cheaper than coal in some parts of the world, and generating power from the sun is likely to be the lowest-cost energy option globally in less than ten years, according to Bloomberg. In many places around the world, solar is already the lowest-cost option.  

Even the big utilities are moving rapidly toward solar (and wind, which is also poised to best coal in terms of cost). The New York Times reports that Xcel Energy—which provides electricity to the middle of the country, from Colorado to Texas to Michigan—has asked for proposals to build large wind and solar power plants in Colorado, and bids are already coming in lower than the operating costs for coal plants. West Coast energy provider Pacific Gas & Electric has committed to making renewable energy, including solar, 55 percent of its power portfolio by 2031. Many experts think that California will hit the 50 percent renewables mark by 2025—maybe even sooner.

Compounding solar’s impending energy dominance, researchers are exploring new ways to generate solar energy for human needs. Innovative methods of harnessing solar power, like stick-on solar tiles and solar roof shingles, may be coming soon to your neighborhood.

Solar for Every Home

Sunflare, a Los Angeles-based startup, is looking to become the next solar heavyweight with its lightweight panels. Compared to conventional solar panels, Sunflare’s panel products have the same metallic blue look, but not much else in common.

The company’s panels are thin, flexible, and lightweight. Instead of silicon and glass, Sunflare uses a stainless steel substrate with copper, indium, gallium, and selenide to make a semiconductor that’s only a few micro­meters thick.

Rectangular Sunflare panels come in both standard and custom sizes. With super-thin panels come more possibilities. Rather than relying on heavy aluminum frames and skilled installers, Sunflare panels will stick almost anywhere with a special adhesive, and because they’re flexible, they can follow a curve instead of being limited to flat installations.

If a branch shades a traditional solar panel on a home’s roof, it will trigger the shutoff of that panel or a series of panels, explains Sunflare’s chief marketing officer Elizabeth Sanderson. She notes that Sunflare panels have more diodes that help bypass just the shaded area. In addition, these unique panels can be used with off-grid homes that can’t support regular panels, like trailer homes, tiny homes, or RVs.

One of Sunflare’s first customers stuck the panels onto her tiny home in Spain, allowing her to live off the grid. And Vistabule, a camping-trailer manufacturer, has worked with Sunflare to incorporate panels into the roof of its teardrop-shaped trailers.

Sanderson says she’s excited about the products’ commercial applications: “Silicon panels are four times heavier than the Sunflare panels.

Warehouses and distribution center roofs often can’t handle that kind of weight. Also, commercial building owners aren’t very happy when they have to puncture their roofs to install racking. But they are happy with Sunflare installation; it’s peel and stick. And the panels are durable and can provide more insulation for the building. It’s a win-win-win.”

Because Sunflare is in the initial phases of scale-up and in the beginning of its technology lifecycle, its prices are about 50-100 percent higher than traditional panels. However, that gap narrows as you take its much cheaper installation costs into account. Sunflare is currently ramping up as it awaits safety certification for commercial membrane roofs this month.

A Bright Future

In 2016, solar became the fastest growing source of energy in the US, and the biggest employer of all energy industries, with around 370,000 employees, compared to 187,000 in all fossil fuels combined, according to the US Department of Labor. The price of solar fell 165 percent from 1975 to 2015, as the megawatts installed globally surged from two to 65,000 in the same period, according to a report by Bloomberg and the Earth Policy Institute.

Given the harsh realities of the climate crisis, the world’s impending approach to peak coal and peak oil, and the rapid adoption of solar worldwide, Kennedy says the future looks very bright indeed for solar power, and he expects more solar innovations to keep coming.

“The US pioneered something world-changing, literally,” says Kennedy. “Photovoltaics, invented by Bell Labs in 1954, already have and are going to continue to completely transform civilization until we become a completely solar-powered society.”

To read the original article from Green America, Click Here.

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