The future of photovoltaic energy

Michael Harre, Vice President, LG Solar
Michael Harre, Vice President, LG Solar

By Michael Harre, Vice President, LG Solar

 Good yields, government funding and secure payments are all proving that investments in photovoltaic panels are cost-worthy once again. Thanks to EU incentive schemes and continuous investment in research and development from manufacturers, the price of solar power has plunged, making it more competitive with conventional sources of energy on price and capacity.

Globally, solar power accounts for less than one per cent of electricity supply, but recent growth in the sector has been extraordinary. Solar PV power has been the biggest source of new electricity generation for two consecutive years in Europe.

While the British government has recently reduced the size of the feed-in tariffs given to the solar energy industry, it does not mean that confidence in renewable energy is waning. If anything, it is a signal that the industry is now robust enough that it no longer needs to rely on government subsidies to survive.

The cost of solar panels and the accompanying installation has fallen by 70 per cent over the past two years. It is estimated that by 2020, four million UK households will have solar power capabilities and that the solar energy industry will employee 360,000 people.

With this in mind, we turn our thoughts to the future of the solar power industry. As always, solar manufacturers are continuing to look for ways in which to increase both cell and module efficiency. This will bring overall production costs down and offer users a better price-to-value ratio. However, solar manufacturers need to take into consideration limited installation space, especially for domestic and small business users in major cities like London.

Solar modules must continue to provide greater levels of efficiency in order to stay competitive with other types of renewable energy. Manufacturers need to find ways to produce the same amount of, if not more, energy with fewer modules, to be a viable source of renewable energy in densely populated cities in the UK. This can be achieved by using a number of new technologies now on offer, such as N-type silicon wafers. N-type wafers have higher efficiency and very low-to-none light induced degradation (LID), the increased longevity of these cells leads to greater energy cost savings for the user.

Solar technology is at the heart of the renewable energy debate, as it is accessible to most. Both households and businesses are now looking at the ways in which they can make savings and have greater control. Households have a sense of environmental responsibility and businesses want to de-risk their organisations by reducing reliance on external energy providers and the price increases currently associated with them.

Manufacturers will continue to focus on research and development to enhance the efficiency of each individual module being produced. This will also help bring the price down to ensure that the technology is available to all.

In the near future, I think we can expect to see photovoltaic modules being absorbed into the ‘smart’ home, in the way that electronic appliances and storage systems already have been. According to GBI Research, the number of ‘smart’ homes will double between now and 2017. The ‘smart’ home would use the photovoltaic modules to produce completely free and renewable energy, and the house itself would coordinate solar production with energy usage. It would know when to use the energy and when to store it for later use. The energy would be used to power ‘smart’ electronic appliances that typically don’t demand a lot of power.

For a lot of manufacturers, all of the ingredients for a ‘smart’ home are already in place; it is just a case of expanding upon current technology and integrating appliances.