There is no question that sustainable energy is a hot topic at the moment, with more and more people looking into their practices and trying to improve their lifestyles. As technology develops, it seems that the sun isn’t fading away anytime soon, with solar power now having the potential to become a much bigger contender over traditional fossil fuels. However, despite its positives, some significant barriers stop solar power from being utilized globally.
One of the most significant issues is the lack of investment in research and development that hinders solar power’s potential to grow. In 2015, solar energy received $138 million in investment funding, a 50% decline on the previous year. This reduction of the financing has had a knock-on effect on the employment sector regarding jobs created. For example, Sun Spec Alliance was founded in 2010 to increase the use of solar panels by installing them on roofs around California. Despite being successful and serving thousands of customers to date, it shut down just two years after launch due to fewer government subsidies.
This resulted from the decrease in funding, the rise in competition, and a slowdown in the economy overall. This means that many jobs have been lost that were reliant on such companies, and they will hit future solar projects. The lack of funding has also had a significant effect on the growth of solar energy. We may have seen more solar panels installed globally, but there is barely any increase in electricity usage.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) statement states that “solar PV provides for almost 2 percent of global electricity share, or about 5 percent when coupled with storage technologies”. However, the IEA claims that solar PV provides for only 1.2 percent of electricity generation. This can be attributed to the lack of investment in renewable technology, which has resulted in a drop from $107 billion in 2014 to $88 billion in 2015 (IEA). This is due to a reduction in net investments into solar energy, with companies having difficulty funding research and development. This means that what we know about using renewable energy cannot be replicated by the industry as a whole yet. What SolarCity recently did with their new microgrid will enable us to provide power when there is less sunlight available and backup when there is more.
As well as investment in research and development, there is another key element that is missing from the equation – education. People are becoming more aware of their carbon emissions, but many do not fully understand how to use renewable energy sources. The average UK citizen uses about 10,500 kWh of electricity per year (Britannica), and the major contributor to this comes from the residential sector. However, a lot of energy is wasted due to inefficiencies with appliances such as fridges and LED lights – if they were all switched off at once, London would be left in darkness. The problem with educating people is that many of them have not had the opportunity to become aware of their energy usage. However, investors need to start looking towards the future and divert some of their funding away from fossil fuel energy sources. One of the best ways to do this is through education and making people aware of how much money they can save if they become more efficient.
There is little research done into the potential of using solar energy on a big scale. However, there have been numerous studies done into localized solutions. One of the problems that have been observed is that it takes a long time for grids to catch up with renewable energy expansion. For example, a study in California found that it took almost 30 years to reduce emissions from the electricity sector by 33 percent (IEA). The problem with this is that it would be far too late by then. However, researchers at Lancaster University recently looked into solutions such as mini-grids and micro grids to help alleviate this problem. They found that concentrating solar power plants could power approximately half of a country’s homes.
Cambridge energy center is a sustainable energy centre which is leading renewable energy project looking to educate the public and help promote renewable energy. The centre has introduced a range of different services, including advice and products to help consumers switch to sustainable energy. They also provide education for people who do not have much knowledge regarding renewable energy but have high aspirations once they become aware of it.