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A sunny disposition

Solar PV costs are falling fast. A new report has shown that roll-out of panels is doubling around every two years, and sending costs just under a fifth in a downward trajectory each time they do.

The ‘holy grail’ for the solar industry’s maximum impact is to reach $1.50 per watt. They’ve already gone from $7.50 to $2.50 and may well make that target in less than half a decade. This is the kind of stuff that would have seemed laughable a decade ago.

You know it’s a serious proposition when even the havens of fossil fuels are getting involved. A massive solar power plant has just been unveiled in the United Arab Emirates – a place with no shortage of intense solar energy to capture. Dr Adnan Amin, Secretary General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), which itself is based in Abu Dhabi, explains the rationale:

The question was often asked, why would a renewable energy agency be headquartered in an oil-producing country? Behind us, you have the proof…there is a business case, there is an economic case, there is a climate change case, there is a political case.”

Technology giants are increasingly bringing solar energy into the heart of new innovations that have other primary aims than decarbonisation. Take Samsung, for instance, who have come up with a solar-powered mobile health centre for use in rural parts of the developing world.

Batteries mean electricity can be stored for 24-hour use – though of course there are human limitations to this, as Kea’ Modimoeng, the corporate citizenship manager for Samsung Electronics in Africa points out:

This unit can operate day and night. The only limitation will be health personnel wanting to go home.”

The striving for unique solar selling points has far from stopped, despite success. For those design fanatics that think panels are a bit passé already, how does solar fabric sound? American scientists have developed a silicon-based optical fibre with solar-cell capabilities. John Badding of Penn State University elaborates:

Long, fibre-based solar cells give us the potential to do something we couldn't really do before: We can take the silicon fibres and weave them together into a fabric with a wide range of applications such as power generation, battery charging, chemical sensing, and biomedical devices. "A typical solar cell has only one flat surface, but a flexible, curved solar-cell fabric would not be as dependent upon where the light is coming from or where the sun is in the horizon and the time of day."

Getting panel positioning just right is key, and something you can do using current domestic-level technology using our calculator, but a bending, twisting option impervious to where the sun is would be some step forward, so it will be interesting to see the progress of this idea. All in all, it seems pretty clear that while there remains a sun in the sky, hopes for a role for solar in the world’s energy future will not be hanging by a thread…

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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