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How can other renewables match the success story of solar power

By Raikishori Ganguly

Mother Earth blessed the human civilization with invaluable treasures in the form of air, water, sky and earth. Unfortunately, we took the essentials like fresh air, clear skies and clean water for granted and put all our geniuses in digging out the oils and fossil fuels hidden inside the rocks and mountains. It just took us a few thousand years to destroy the pristine environment with poisonous gases.

Indeed, the environmental concern today is an urgent priority as the climate change emergency looms in the horizon even before we can put the ongoing pandemic crisis to rest. The global forces had identified renewable energies as the true saviour of the environment long ago. For years research and development work has been going on for making renewable energies like solar, wind and hydro available to the common masses in order to replace the greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels.

The success story of solar power

In the past few decades, ample progress has been done in the field of solar energy. Decade after decade, improvement in technology has brought down the cost of buying solar power significantly. In fact, the progress has now made solar power the cheapest source of energy on earth. The International Energy Association (IEA) has predicted that over the next decade, solar power will become the “the king of renewables growth”, states a WEF article.

Innovation in solar

Cutting-edge innovation is at the heart of the success story of solar energy. Material innovation has been a dominant strength of solar in recent years. Just about a decade back, in 2009, solar panels were capable of capturing and storing 3% of the energy emanated by sunlight. Today, after a shift to silicon cells and several bouts of innovation 40% energy is captured and stored and very soon the figure is expected to cross the 66% mark.

The second key factor that boosted uptake of solar power was staggering price drop. A study conducted by MIT showed that six low level and broad factors enabled close to 10% drop in costs. Simple and widespread factors like advancing production processes and reducing cost of manufacturing each cell accounted for nearly 70% of overall savings. Other renewables must adopt a similar approach as well.

The innovation, of course didn’t happen on its own – several state level policies, international boosts and national reforms drove the required research and development initiatives, making such heightened innovation achievable in reality.

Wind power needs to follow suit

Wind energy has shown immense potential and if the world seriously wants to reach zero carbon emission by the year 2030, innovation in wind energy must replicate solar power’s 22-fold rise in efficiency in 11 years or less.

The mammoth weight of wind turbines is one of the big factors, slowing down the deployment rate of wind firms and rendering them inefficient. Simpler designs and reduction of material weight can advance the growth of wind energy to a great extent. Wind power operators must aim to achieve disruptive innovation that can usher leaner designs which are lightweight, can be produced at lower costs, and suitable for the circular economy.

 

 Image source: IEA

The larger picture

It is essential to point out that solar energy is significantly different from other renewables. Solar panels can be manufactured in any size, while hydroelectricity and wind need largescale assets involving numerous interlinking parts.

Further, it must be acknowledged that the innovations that boosted solar power took more than a decade. The world cannot wait for a similar number of years to see other renewables to become affordable like solar. To emulate the innovation seen in the sphere of solar power, renewables must rely on enabling technologies that can be taken to mass production and rolled out in 2-3 years.

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