History is filled with the discovery of new kinds of energy. Perhaps fire was the first, providing warmth at night and in cold climates. Later there was steam, coal, and finally those that we have at the moment such as oil, natural gas and nuclear power. The potential difficulty with most of these energy sources is that they are non-renewable, meaning that they are going to run out at some stage. Of course we also have a range of renewable energy sources as well now such as wind, tidal and solar. The question is really whether renewable energy is going to be able to take over from fossil fuels.
If renewable energy is going to be able to take over when fossil fuels run out or become too expensive and difficult to utilize, then solar energy is going to be a large part of that. At least, so it seems at the moment. Solar energy is one of the most popular and effective forms of renewable energy. It can be utilised on a small scale, such as in pocket calculators and on a large scale for solar power plants which can stretch miles across. And perhaps most importantly, on a medium scale, powering individual buildings.
The problem at the moment is that in many cases using solar power does not make economic sense. In the UK of course there is the feed-in tariff whereby the government pays for all renewable energy generated which is subsequently fed back into the national grid. This has led to a large increase in its uptake, but it is still nowhere near enough to not require electricity from conventional sources. Other countries have similar schemes, and at the moment Germany is leading in solar energy production. But will solar energy become more viable in the future, such that it does not require government tariffs?
As Virginia Woolf once commented, the future is dark, meaning that we do not know what is going to happen in the future. There are many reasons why the future could be bright for solar energy however. For one, there are a multitude of research projects ongoing seeking to improve the efficiency of solar panels. If they are able to make more energy then of course they will enable people to save more from having them installed on their roofs, and will also encourage businesses to build more solar power plants. Also, as any new technology develops, costs naturally come down, meaning that more people will be able to make use of them.
Hopefully we won’t be running out of fossil fuels any time soon of course, as renewable energy is nowhere near ready to take over completely. In the distant future, however, assuming that the efficiency of solar cells is able to be improved dramatically, will there ever be enough solar energy to allow us to continue with our current way of life? The answer there is a pretty definite yes, as the sun supplies us with enough energy every minute to take call of all of our energy needs for an entire year.
So what is the future of solar energy? Nobody really knows, but what is almost certain is that it will have a significant role to play in satisfying our energy needs.