New ‘Solar Panels’ Harness The Energy Of Deep Space.
Solar power is cheaper than ever, it’s ultra-abundant, and it emits zero greenhouse gases. But it’s far from perfect--for now. One of the biggest limitations of solar energy (which applies to wind power as well) is that it is variable and is not dispatchable. Variability refers to the fact that solar power is dependent on a completely unreliable factor: the weather. Solar panels don’t generate energy if the sun isn’t shining, meaning that they don’t function for an entire half of every day and function far under capacity during overcast daylight hours. They also can’t be turned on and off according to the grid’s needs, known as dispatchability. Instead of being able to respond to the energy needs of the grid, the grid has to work around the productivity of the solar panels.
Researchers have been hard at work for years to address these two shortcomings with all different kinds of approaches. The most predominant strategy, and the one that is furthest along in development and implementation, is energy storage. When solar panels create excess energy, that is, more than the grid can absorb, the energy will be stored for later use when the sun isn’t shining. Energy storage is extremely promising, but currently is simply too expensive to be applied across the industry at a scale large enough to compete with fossil fuels. In order to reach 100 percent renewable energy in the United States, energy storage needs to be cheaper--a lot cheaper. “The answer is $20 per kilowatt hour in energy capacity costs. That’s how cheap storage would have to get for renewables to get to 100 percent,” reported Vox late last year based on findings from an MIT study. “That’s around a 90 percent drop from today’s costs. While that is entirely within the realm of the possible, there is wide disagreement over when it might happen; few expect it by 2030.”
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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5 February 2020