Sunshine & Happiness: Advances in Solar Energy

SUNSHINE & HAPPINESS:

ADVANCES IN SOLAR ENERGY

Written by Corne van Biljon

The world can no longer consume more as it grows more. The age of sustainability mandates renewable energy – and in South Africa we are in a sunny spot with solar (photovoltaic or PV) energy.

Most regions in South Africa receive more than 2 500 hours of sunshine each year, and average solar-radiation levels, range between 4.5 and 6.5kWh/m² in one day, compared to Europe’s 2.5kWh/m².

Today, the average commercial solar cell is approximately 20% efficient, which means 80% of the sunlight that hits it does not convert into electricity. Scientists are getting closer to 50% efficiency, but these new technologies are a few years away from being commercially available. 

Large-scale manufacturing lowers the costs of solar energy solutions. Over the last five years, the price of solar installations has decreased

Scientific advances and decreased costs, coupled with a growing number of local banks that are offering incentives for businesses and small companies to install solar PV panels make renewable energy a very cost effective and attractive long-term proposition.

AN EXPENSIVE SILVER LINING

Written by Corne van Biljon

There is, however, a limit to the world’s solar ambitions: Silver. It takes about 20 grams of silver to produce an average solar panel – 6% of the total cost of the price of building each unit.

It’s estimated that the world’s available silver reserves border on 600 000 tons.

Given the current efficiency of solar panels and the electricity consumption of the world, we would need 5.62 million tons of silver to power the world through solar technology. Even when we reach 50% PV efficiency, and we use all but the last granule of silver on earth, we will still be able to supply only one-fifth of the world with solar electricity. Wind, water and waves will have to supply the remainder.

GROWTH IN SOLAR ENERGY OUTPUT IN SOUTH AFRICA.

GRAPH: IRENA (2019).

IN THE US, THE RENEWABLE ENERGY SECTOR GENERATED MORE ELECTRICITY THAN COAL-FIRED PLANTS FOR THE FIRST TIME DURING APRIL 2019.

(THIS IS HYDRO, BIOMASS, WIND,SOLAR AND GEOTHERMAL)

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