People often ask me about the status of solar technology and it’s cost, and what the problem is with it. My answer is that it is still expensive, but the cost of solar technology is following a downward trend. It is constantly evolving and this is why it is such a promising source of electricity.
A common misconception is that a marginal percentage of electricity can come from renewable sources because it is not possible for solar panels to generate enough electricity. The truth is that for many years, the problem with solar power has been the cost of it, and the cost to store the energy they generate, which is even more important that the cost of solar electricity in this day and age.
Solar panels are capable of generating far more electricity than is required, but it needs to be converted into a stable, consistent supply of power. Energy storage is one way to do this. Studies from years ago showed that renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind can only provide 20% of electricity in the U.S. That was without energy storage.
The percentage of electricity that can come from solar panels is limited without energy storage due to the fact that solar panels generate less electricity when clouds pass over them, and none at night. The greater the grid penetration of solar without energy storage, the more it affects the electricity grid. If, for example you used a solar panel to generate all of your electricity without energy storage, and the weather became too cloudy, you would end up with a blackout due to a lack of electricity, assuming you don’t have an inverter generator to back it up.
Solar and wind farms both benefit from energy storage. There are many different types of energy storage mediums which you can view along with their problems here. To be fair, many devices already have energy storage capability (such as cellphones, tablet PCs, MP3 players, and laptops, so no battery purchase is necessary to solar-power these devices. Finally, solar power plants and wind farms are backed up by coal, natural gas, hydroelectric, and other fossil-fuelled power plants powering the grid.
Don’t Solar Power Plants Require Gas Backup Generators Which Increase Emissions?
Some argue that solar power plants cause an increase in fossil fuel-related emissions because they think they require fossil-fuelled power stations to run all the time. This is not true, and coal power plants rely on these stations anyway because they must be backed up for maintenance as well. Coal power plants can take 3 hours to start. Natural gas backup generators are generating surplus electricity (and burning extra gas) all the time just in case a coal power plant breaks down. Backup for the electricity grid already exists, so the backup argument against solar is moot.