Can the Sun Replace Oil?

Nellis_AFB_Solar_panelsWhat if a battery could make renewable energy more efficient than fossil fuels…

By Benjamin Hayward.

In just six hours, wrote German particle physicist Gerhard Knies in response to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the world’s deserts receive more energy from the Sun than humans consume in a year. The world’s energy consumption has increased since then, but so has the enthusiasm for clean energy resources like wind and solar. At the time, Knies’ dream had serious practical obstacles. Since then climate change fervor and energy security concerns have fueled technological advancements in renewable energy. However, one hurdle remains to finally convince the economists: efficiency; and in January of this year, scientists at Harvard University released their findings on a better technology that may change it all.

Even if climate change were not a pressing motivator, the dropping price of solar and wind energy is making them more and more attractive to customers on the current energy grid. Price subsidies for solar power in Spain and the colossal push for a strong national energy sector in Germany have both encouraged the development of more efficient solar power. This initiative has not only put a call out for increased solar technology, but wholesale production of solar panels cut their price in half in just over a year. By 2013, solar energy in Spain was being sold on the grid at market prices, and in January of this year, Deutsche Bank reported that more than 19 countries are now under grid parity for solar energy. Achieving ‘grid parity’ means that solar production facilities are now competitive with traditional power plants on the energy market without government subsidies.

As production and development continue, industry forecasts have placed energy production by wind and solar sources at cheaper than current grid electricity in most of the world by the year 2025. But cheaper isn’t enough to see renewable energy completely replacing dirty fuels. The problem, as analyzed in many publications recently, is one of …

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