Solar panels have come a long way since the 1970s when they first started appearing on Australian rooftops. The shift from fossil fuels to renewables has already passed its tipping point and as the technology behind solar power keeps improving, this form of renewable energy continues to change our lives.
Solar panel technology has improved dramatically
The solar cell was actually first invented way back in 1888 by Professor Aleksandr Stoletov, who was a Russian physicist and founder of electrical engineering. However, these cells were less than one per cent efficient, so there was a long road ahead. It wasn’t until 1960 that a viable cell was invented by Hoffman Electronics, achieving 14 per cent efficiency.
Over the decades, technology has advanced to the point where most modern cells are up to 25 per cent efficient, but there is another technological leap just around the corner. A joint effort between scientists at George Washington University, US Naval Research Laboratory, Sotera Defense Solutions, Semprius and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have developed a five-junction photovoltaic cell that they claim is 44.5 per cent efficient and able to capture over 99 per cent of the solar spectrum.
As well as the cells and panels themselves, battery technology has improved exponentially and the costs have become much more affordable. These storage batteries are typically made from lithium-ion and the world leader is the Tesla Powerwall, which can provide power for several days when there is no sunlight.
Governments are investing more in renewable energy
Australia is one of the world leaders when it comes to investment in technologies across this space. This progress has been further accelerated through the Federal Government tipping in over $30 billion AUD since 2017.
According to the Clean Energy Council, there are currently 95 renewable projects that are either under construction or due to start construction soon that will deliver over $19.8 billion in capital costs. On top of that, all of the states and territory governments are also investing heavily in solar power projects in Australia, which are set to contribute towards a major renewables boom in the coming years.
Reaching the point where we can exist on solar exclusively
On October 11 in 2020, South Australia had a one-hour period where the solar production of electricity was enough to power the entire state. As investment in the field continues to advance and the take up of panels and battery solutions continues to rise in Australia, we are going to see more and more periods where fossil fuels are not required at all.
There are some people who think solar is bad. The thought is that it’s still a negative power source. The bottom line is that panels are cheaper than ever, more efficient than they have been in the past and able to provide further stability through battery storage. It’s now incredibly easy for any Australian household to drive their energy bills down, especially during times where the hip-pocket can take a hit. Whether it’s due to peak period electricity hikes, seasonal changes or supplier fluctuations, having solar readily available can provide much-needed relief.