While the rest of the world was distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the solar industry was busy making massive strides. Last year, we saw the greatest ever increase in the use of solar energy, with the annual research group New Energy World providing a clear indication of the growing trend.
Solar energy usage increased by a factor of six in 2020, with nearly 100 million solar photovoltaic (PV) installations worldwide. Moreover, the price of solar energy dropped by 20% in 2020 compared to 2019. These results reflect the positive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the solar industry and the need to supply clean energy to hundreds of millions of people who had their electricity supply cut off due to the pandemic.
However, this is not all that solar energy is. As a technology, solar energy is relatively simple and can be understood by anyone. It only requires sunlight and batteries. The real challenge is in the implementation and commercialization of this technology. This is where a business or firm can really shine, taking a concept created in a research laboratory and turning it into a real-world product that can be purchased by the masses. With this in mind, here is a brief introduction to solar energy and why it is being taken so seriously around the world.
The most obvious and perhaps most fundamental reason is that the sun provides us with enough energy to sustain our daily lives. We are only beginning to understand the true enormity of this energy source. While we have always relied on the sun to provide us with energy, we have largely been unaware of how much energy we actually relied on it. For example, until recently, we knew very little about the internal combustion engine or about how much fuel it actually takes to run a car. Similarly, we are just now beginning to understand the true energy impact of the sun, leading academics and researchers to dub this decade “The Second Sun Age”.
Moreover, we are only beginning to see the ways in which solar energy is sustainable. While it is true that natural gas and coal will no doubt play a role in providing us with energy for many years to come, these sources of energy are undoubtedly harmful to the environment. To contrast, solar energy is truly sustainable as it neither creates nor destroys environmentally harmful waste (e.g., plastic bottles, metal cans, and fossil fuels such as oil and gas). It only takes a few minutes of sunlight to create enough energy for a day. This is in sharp contrast to the hours required to dig up a fossil fuel, extract it, and refine it into gasoline. The next generation of solar-powered equipment and devices will be designed to be more efficient and to last longer. This should not come as a great surprise. After all, fossil fuels were initially discovered and used for the very same reasons. They are abundant and, for the most part, easy to obtain. This makes them easier to transport and simpler to use. Moreover, the era of fossil fuels was also characterized by an abundance of energy and an ease of access. In contrast, the sun is limited in its ability to provide energy and is present only at specific times of the day.
The Growth Of Solar Energy
While there is still a lot to learn about the sun and energy derived from it, the growth in solar energy usage is undeniable. In 2020, we saw solar energy usage increase by a factor of six to almost 300 million kWh worldwide. Moreover, the price of solar energy decreased by 20% in 2020 compared to 2019, making it much more affordable.
This increase is mainly due to the fact that more people and businesses are realizing the many advantages of solar energy. This is especially true in the developed world, where governments and businesses have supported and enabled the growth of the solar industry. For example, Germany, the world’s fourth-largest auto market, has heavily invested in solar energy and has enabled tens of thousands of solar projects across the country. Most notably, in 2020 alone, the country’s solar industry grew by 54% compared to the previous year. This growth is being driven by simple economics. Solar energy is much less expensive than traditional sources of power and is much more reliable. Moreover, the sun provides us with energy regardless of the weather conditions. This is not the case with many other energy sources, making it much more stable.
The Impact Of The COVID-19 Pandemic
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was, and continues to be, monumental. The number of solar installations worldwide doubled in 2020, increasing from 100 to 200 million kWh, with an additional 50 million kWh projected for 2021. This was largely due to a growing awareness and need for clean energy during the pandemic. Similar to other clean energy sources, such as wind and hydroelectric power, solar energy increased in demand as the world shifted to a more digital and remote working style. Moreover, many businesses and industries were forced to close down. Their demand for energy dropped, as did their need to generate it. This meant that more people turned to solar energy to supply their daily needs.
In addition to this demand increase, the COVID-19 pandemic had a positive impact on the cost of solar energy. As demand increased, so did supply. This led to a decrease in price, with a 1.2 kW system costing only USD 0.12/kWh in early June 2021 and as low as USD 0.06/kWh in other markets. Similarly, many companies and governments offered significant stimulus packages and tax incentives to businesses and individuals to install solar energy systems.
What Is Solar Energy?
Solar energy, otherwise known as “sun power”, is the conversion of sunlight into usable electrical energy. Much like fossil fuels and nuclear power, solar energy is a non-renewable energy source, with only sunlight being a truly infinite resource. However, unlike fossil fuels and many other traditional energy sources, solar energy does not harm the environment in the process of generation. Moreover, it is completely renewable and provides a self-sustaining energy source. This makes it a truly sustainable option for powering our daily lives. As a result, many businesses and industries are turning to solar energy to power their operations. This, in turn, creates more jobs and opens up new, profitable markets and opportunities for existing companies. As demand for solar energy increases, so does the need for more skilled labor to meet this demand. In 2017, there were only 300,000 construction jobs related to solar energy globally. However, by 2030, this is expected to rise to 1.8 million jobs.
This is one of the many reasons why the solar industry is becoming so attractive. Not only do you have access to a completely sustainable source of energy, but you can also tap into an almost infinite amount of it. Moreover, as demand grows, so does the need for more skilled labor and equipment. To meet this demand, many countries, such as Germany and France, are offering large subsidies and tax breaks to businesses and individuals interested in installing a solar system. While solar energy is relatively new as a source of energy, it has been around for a long time. In fact, the very first solar cells were created in the 19th century and were used alongside wind turbines and water mills to generate power (Cline and Roberts, 2019).
How Is Solar Energy Different From Other Sources Of Energy?
There are several important differences between solar energy and other traditional energy sources. First, and most obviously, solar energy does not create any harmful waste in the process of generation. This is very much unlike nuclear energy or fossil fuels, where mining and refining the latter two products leads to the generation of significant amounts of waste. Second, unlike other traditional sources of energy, such as coal and natural gas, solar energy is renewable and does not deplete in supply over time. Third, while nuclear energy provides us with a steady stream of energy, solar energy only provides us with as much energy as we have available at any given moment. This makes it very much akin and, in some ways, a complementary source of energy to solar-powered devices. These latter devices, otherwise known as “solar appliances”, can store energy and provide us with a continuous supply of power, regardless of the weather conditions or amount of sunlight present.
In general, the differences between solar energy and other traditional sources of energy are numerous and significant. With only a few resources and raw materials needed to create it, solar energy is a much more sustainable option than many other sources of energy. Moreover, its generation is orders of magnitude cleaner than many traditional options. As a result, companies, businesses, and governments that heavily rely on traditional energy sources for the production of electricity are reaping the benefits of switching to a cleaner and more sustainable option.