SOLAR – the next big chapter of the new industrial revolution
Many of us have watched in awe over the past couple of decades as the digital revolution unfolded. Now there’s another massive change happening with equally stunning speed. It’s the Renewables Revolution with solar leading the way. Yet many are still to realize just how profound its impact is likely to be.
Are you old enough to remember the early days of the Internet and the World Wide Web?
Back in the mid-1990s when we were debating whether Yahoo or Hotmail was better for those new-fangled email accounts that opened so painfully slowly over clunky, squawking dial-up connections.
Back when Internet Explorer was challenging browsers like Excite, Yahoo and Alta-Vista and Google was not yet a gleam in the eyes of Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
Bill Gates came to Canberra, met Prime Minister John Howard and his Ministers and made a speech about his vision for an “Information Highway”.
The concept was so novel, and seemingly so outlandish, that it made the front pages of Australia’s major daily newspapers.
And the experienced newspaper journalists, editors and proprietors smiled knowingly to themselves and mentally muttered a “Not in my lifetime”.
How wrong they were and how dramatically their world has changed in less than 25 years!
The Information Highway and the Digital Age are upon all of us in ways that we could never have foreseen and it has unfolded with blistering speed.
And now we are recognizing it, quite rightly, as the dawn of a new industrial revolution.
Now I am not a Bill Gates and I don’t mix much with Prime Ministers, but I am here to tell you that SOLAR POWER and new developments in battery storage are now doing for energy what the Internet has done for information and on-line marketing and commerce.
It is no longer a question of WHETHER most of our world will embrace the bounty of energy from the sun – the only question is WHEN.
And the when is coming with a rush!
IT’S ALL SHAPING AS THE LATEST CHAPTER IN THE NEW INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION!
Most people outside the industry are still to really appreciate the extent of the extraordinary solar energy revolution sweeping the world – it is happening so fast that the mainstream media and the general public have not had time to catch up!
For example –
- China installed a massive 53 gigawatts (GW) of solar generating capacity over the year 2017 and as at December last China’s total installed solar capacity had exceeded 130 GW. To put that into perspective the generating capacity of Australia’s National Energy Market (NEM) from ALL SOURCES stands at 54.5 GW. China is continuing to invest heavily in renewable energy with employment in the sector expected to top 13 million by around 2020.
- In the USA renewables accounted for 14% of total 2016 electricity sales with half of this coming from solar and wind. The US ranks second in the world in installed solar capacity at 44.7GW – that’s 4,500 per cent greater than government experts forecast 10 years ago. The Solar Energy Industry Association says the US now has enough solar energy capacity to power 6.2 million homes and take up is growing rapidly.
- Corporate USA is taking up renewables, especially solar, at a startling rate. Retailers like Target, Walmart, IKEA, Amazon, Kohls, Macys and Costco and tech companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft are embracing sun power. Some, like Apple, have committed to going 100% renewables and some also are becoming players in the wind energy industry.
- Half of US Fortune 500 companies have indicated they are planning increased use of renewables. Warren Buffet has reportedly invested more than US$30 billion in the solar energy industry.
- Rapid take up of solar is occurring in Germany, Japan, the UK (despite the clouds and drizzle), Italy, France, India, Spain, Turkey, the Middle East and Australia.
New solar generating capacity installed around the world in 2017 amounted 98.9 GW a 30% increase on 2016 (which was itself a dizzying 50% increase over 2015). Analysts expect total world capacity to top 1,000 GW by 2025.
It all means that solar has become VERY BIG business – around the world we are truly starting to see a SUN RUSH!
What’s powering this solar momentum?
Eight main factors are responsible for the accelerating take up of solar.
- Falling cost of solar components – From 2009 to 2017 costs fell by as much as 85% over key parts of the solar supply chain. Large-scale manufacturing, competition and technical advances all contributed. Solar panels and components just keep becoming more affordable and payback periods shorter.
(The computer industry has “Moore’s law” to describe its exponential growth – many in the solar industry have adopted “Swanson’s law” which suggests the price of solar PV panels decreases by 20% for every doubling of solar capacity.)
- Environmental consciousness – Concerns are growing about climate change and the need for sustainable alternative energy. Environmental degradation has shifted public opinion in favor of renewables. Donald Trump may be trying to turn back the tide, but the rest of the world is heeding the science and becoming increasingly worried.
- Political support – Governments, including the Australian government, have responded to changing public opinion with incentives and regulations encouraging a switch to renewables.
- Location Independence – Self-contained solar systems require relatively simple technologies – they can be big or small, and can be installed just about anywhere. A solar system can be a modest domestic rooftop delivering 5 kilowatts or a 1,000 megawatt-plus solar farm. Installation is relatively uncomplicated and systems can be grid-connected or operate completely off-grid in remote locations. Other renewables like wind, hydro or geothermal typically are manly suited more to utilities-scale projects and are location dependent.
- Control and commissioning software – The technology that transformed the auto repair business is revolutionizing the day-to-day experience and effectiveness of solar installers. New mobile apps are streamlining array configuration, system commissioning and performance monitoring, saving time, improving workflow and cutting costs. Providers can remotely monitor and maintain rooftop solar systems and customers can use their phone to operate their system – they can see and control what’s happening and they love it!
- Minimal maintenance and resupply – Install a solar system and you have little need to touch it or run up big maintenance bills for around 25 years or more for the panels (likely to be progressively extended) and typically 10 years plus for peripherals (also expected to be progressively extended). And you never need to secure and pay for resupplies of diesel or coal or gas or any other fuel – the energy keeps coming FREE from the sky.
- Funding Packages – Major lenders have decided it is good business to advance up-front solar installation costs with customers making repayments from their savings on power bills. They are establishing specialist loan or leasing divisions to handle it. As a result solar system installation companies have been able to offer their systems with zero-dollars down, further opening up the market.
- Energy storage – This has been the missing link in the solar revolution. Suddenly it’s changing and the improved and cheaper storage now being rapidly developed will be the game changer driving faster solar power take-up over coming years. Major companies are spending massive R & D funds to develop economic storage systems and breakthroughs are inevitable.
In short most of the past barriers to widespread solar energy are crumbling, fast – now we can all have clean, cheap, reliable solar power and save big dollars.
And those coming advances in storage technologies mean we will be able to do so even when the sun doesn’t shine!
A brighter, sunnier, lower cost energy future is just around the corner for all of us and it is coming with blistering speed … just like the World Wide Web and the Internet.
Get ready, join in and enjoy it.
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