How the development of solar energy could change the world

It’s been 70 years since AT&T’s Bell Labs introduced a new technology to turn sunlight into energy. The phone company hoped it could replace the batteries needed to operate devices in remote locations, and also believed that powering devices with just light showed how science could make the future look beautiful.

Today, solar energy has surpassed that era. The photovoltaics panels now cover an area roughly half the size of Wales and will provide about 6% of the world’s electricity this year, roughly three times what America consumed in 1954, the Economist notes. However, this historic development is only the second most notable event in the rise of solar energy. Most importantly, it’s almost not over.

Calling the growth of solar energy exponential is not an exaggeration, but a reality. Installed solar power capacity doubles approximately every three years, and thus increases tenfold every ten years. Ten years ago, when it was one-tenth its current size, solar energy was still considered marginal by experts who knew how fast it was growing.

Cheaper solar energy

Solar cells will probably be the largest source of electricity energy By the mid-2030s, it could be the largest source of all energy, not just electricity, on the planet until the 2040s.

On current trends, the total cost of the electricity they produce will be cheaper than the cheapest available today. It won’t stop climate change, but it may slow it down faster.

Still, much of the world will have access to energy, such as Africa, where 600 million people still can’t light their homes. And not only that, they will start feeling full of energy. This feeling will be a new and transformative feeling for humanity. Solar energy does not have the limitations of other fuels and will continue to become cheaper, but must be complemented by other technologies and energy storage.

China’s role

China’s solar panel industry is highly competitive, heavily subsidized, and outstrips current demand. Still, it is expected to continue to expand and become a star. China’s major role in the important industry is causing concern in Europe and the United States.

This is a concern America feels strongly about, which is why China has imposed tariffs on solar equipment. However, since almost all demand for solar panels is still in the future, the rest of the world will have plenty of room to enter the market.

America’s adoption of solar energy may be hampered by a pro-fossil fuel Trump presidency, but only temporarily and painfully. It could also improve if America frees up pent-up demand, making it easier to install panels on homes and connect to the grid—the country has a terawatt of new solar power waiting to be connected. Carbon pricing would certainly help Transition from coal to natural gas in the European Union.

A virtuous circle

The goal should be to reverse the virtuous cycle of solar power generation as quickly as possible. The reward will be cheaper energy, and the benefits will start with increased productivity. Still, cheap energy will make some things possible. People who can never pay will start lighting their homes or driving.

Cheap energy can purify water and even desalinate it. It can control the “hungry” mechanism of artificial intelligence. This could make billions of homes and offices more tolerable in summers that will continue to get hotter for decades to come.

But the things that no one has thought of yet will be the most important. In its radical abundance, cheaper energy will set the imagination free, setting the mind’s little pinwheels spinning with excitement and new possibilities.

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