The global demand for electricity is expected to increase from 50 to 100 million megawatts by next year, according to the Global Energy Council (GEC). As countries like India and China develop their economies and power their growing cities, more and more people will want to get connected to the grid and use electricity to power their homes and businesses.
The problem is that most of the energy systems we use today were designed several decades ago, when fewer people had access to technology and the internet, and when solar energy wasn’t something people could afford to buy or lease. So for the most part, these power systems were not designed with sustainability in mind.
How Big Is the Solar Energy Market?
Around the world, there are over 300 million people who live in total darkness due to insufficient sunlight exposure, leaving them heavily dependent on expensive electricity charges to light their homes and businesses. In India alone, there are over 100 million homes without access to electricity. In these homes, kerosene lamps and candles are still widely used to illuminate their daily lives, causing countless amounts of air pollution and leading to severe health issues.
Clearly, solar energy can play an important part in solving this crisis, and many companies have begun to recognize this. In 2018, the market value of the global solar industry was approximately $265 billion.
How Is Solar Energy Changing?
Thanks to continuous innovation and the industry’s focus on delivering cost-effective, sustainable solutions, the solar energy market has changed a lot in the last few years. For starters, the cost of solar energy has decreased by 70%, and this trend is expected to continue.
Solar energy is also more accessible than ever before. Thanks to government subsidies and special financing schemes, as well as the increasing market demand for affordable electricity, more people than ever are now able to access the benefits of solar energy. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), there were approximately 86.7 million households across the world without access to electricity in 2018, which is up from 81.1 million in 2014 and 74.9 million in 2012. The demand for solar energy is particularly high in the developing world, where businesses and governments are helping to drive the solar energy sector and deliver affordable electricity to rural areas and communities.
Can We Afford to Ignore Solar Energy?
It’s important to understand the relative sizes of the various energy markets before answering this question. First, there is the fossil fuel market, which is currently valued at $27.7 trillion. Second, there is the solar energy market, which is currently valued at $265 billion. Finally, there is the electricity market, which is the focus of this article, and is valued at $14 trillion. So yes, we can afford to ignore solar energy, provided we also ignore the other two markets combined.
The reason why solar energy is growing so rapidly is that it solves many of today’s energy problems. It’s clean, renewable, and accessible. It doesn’t require a lot of human intervention, which makes it extremely reliable and efficient. And last but not least, it’s completely adjustable. Unlike fossil fuels, which are obtained from out of the ground and are thus finite, solar energy can be manufactured on a large-scale to meet any demand.
Is Solar Energy Environmentally Sustainable?
When compared to fossil fuels and nuclear power, investing in solar energy seems like a no-brainer. However, a lot of sustainability-related issues must be considered if we really want to know if this is an environmentally sound decision. To understand where these concerns come from, it’s necessary to look back at the history of solar energy.
In the beginning, solar energy was considered dangerous due to the potential harm it could cause to the environment. Back in 1910, the Sunbeam Company tried to alleviate this fear by launching a solar-powered house in New York City. However, many people still thought that getting too close to the Sun was harmful, and sales of the product dropped by 60%. So while some are worried about the environmental impacts of solar energy, others are just excited about its potential.
How Is Solar Energy Changing the Energy Industry?
One of the greatest things about solar energy is how it is changing the entire energy industry. Before the discovery of solar energy, the energy industry consisted mainly of fossil fuels and nuclear power. While these energy sources have played an important role in our history, particularly in terms of providing the energy needed for economic and social development, they are now showing their age. Thanks to solar energy, we can finally replace fossil fuels and nuclear power in the coming years.
Many large energy companies have already begun to recognize this, and are making strategic investments in the solar industry as a result. In 2019, ExxonMobil, for example, became one of the first major oil companies to invest in solar energy, purchasing a 19.9% stake in solar power company Sunnova for $2.87 billion.
Is Solar Energy Good for the Economy?
In terms of the economy, many Nobel Laureates have spoken out in favor of solar energy. Among them is French economist Paul Krugman, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2018. In his speech at the Nobel ceremony, Krugman said:
“I don’t think there’s any question that, with its potential to eliminate climate change and provide energy for the whole world, solar energy is one of the great gifts of science to society.”
Clearly, saving the environment and providing energy for the whole world is important, but so is generating extra revenue for businesses and governments. According to the Global Energy Council, the global market for photovoltaic solar energy was valued at nearly $60 billion in 2018, and is expected to grow to nearly $140 billion by 2026.
Is Solar Energy Getting More Efficient?
One of the major concerns associated with any new energy source is how efficient it can be. Since the beginning of solar energy, scientists have been trying to make the process more efficient. For instance, in 1931, American inventor R.J. Van de Water improved on the design of the original solar cell, which had a 25% efficiency, and increased it to a 38% efficiency, the highest of any energy technology at that time.
Solar energy is also getting more affordable, which is making it accessible to more people. Prices have declined by 70% since 2010, and this trend is expected to continue. According to the Global Energy Council, the cost of solar energy is now at its cheapest ever, and this downward price trend is expected to continue.
Where Do We Go From Here?
With all this talk of environmental sustainability and economic prosperity, it’s only fair to ask: where do we go from here? Is solar energy the final answer to our energy needs and environmental concerns?
While we can’t say for sure that solar energy is the final answer, we can say it is definitely a step in the right direction. Scientists, engineers, and politicians should be applauded for coming up with this innovative and potentially sustainable energy source, which provides us with cheap and clean electricity when the sun is shining. We should also be mindful of the fact that not everyone will be able to benefit from this energy source, meaning that there will still be people living in darkness and pollution.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that new energy sources will always be met with skepticism and fear, especially if they are clean and solar-powered.
What’s Your Opinion?
With all this information presented, it’s now up to you to decide. Is solar energy the final solution to our energy needs and environmental concerns? Is it time to put all our faith and trust in this new form of energy and begin utilizing it on an industrial scale? Or will you continue to rely on the tried and true methods of getting energy – fossil fuels and nuclear power – and leave the fate of humanity to chance?