Had you taken a public poll 20 years ago about the future of solar power and solar energy, the public would have likely expected the technology to have made leaps and bounds by 2013. Perhaps many would have expected to see solar panels installed on most homes and businesses by now, or even being used to power cars (ala the 1996 James Belushi / Halle Berry movie Race The Sun.) In 2013, in a technological age where most people use smartphones as pocket sized computers, why does it seem that solar power hasn’t progressed much at all?
There are many reasons to help to understand this phenomenon, so we’ve listed some of the most popular below:
- Fundamentally Flawed
One of the most obvious issues that may be holding solar energy back is the idea that if there is no sunshine, there is no power being generated. Because of this, solar energy doesn’t have the capability to stand alone which will surely hinder its popularity. Modern consumers are of the instant gratification mindset and are not always willing to take the inconvenient option, even if it may have strong benefits.
- Opposition From Energy Companies
It’s no question that there are huge amounts of money tied up in the corporations and investors who control the major energy companies of the world. The electricity companies have an interest in limiting their competition and they have lobbyists in that will work to protect their interests. There is also strong opposition coming from competing industries like coal and nuclear energy, both of which are heavily financed and politically influential.
- Equipment Cost is High
Even with the tax breaks and incentives cited as reasons for solar energy development, the upfront costs for equipment and installation are still excessively high. It’s often cited that it would currently cost around $20,000 – $30,000 to install a new solar system on an average American home (before incentives.) The investment can pay for itself over a 20-30 year period of monthly savings, but most households in the U.S. don’t have the means to spend such a large amount of cash straight away.
- Equipment Quality is Low
As many companies have rushed to be the biggest and best producers of solar panel equipment, the market has seen high competition with most of the solar products being produced cheaply in China. Because of this, there has been wide concern that modern solar panels are expensive, untested, and of low quality. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory even estimates that solar panels degrade at a rate of 4.5% annually or more! At this rate, a new solar panel will lose most of its efficiency before it ever becomes financially beneficial.
We will have to wait and see where solar energy goes in the coming years. Maybe it won’t be popular for several more decades, or perhaps it will never become popular at all. Either way, energy is a shifting business that constantly pushes and reinvents itself, so it will be exciting to see what the future has in store for the industry.