Why solar energy might eat itself: The cannibalism that saved earth, By Okezue Bell




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Wait, so sun energy ate itself? Not exactly. Let us start from the beginning.

The energy industry is currently booming, having risen by over 16 times since 1950. Unfortunately, though, nearly 81% of the energy we generate and use is reliant on fossil fuels, a type of non-renewable natural material that is typically combusted to produce usable energy, e.g. burning coal. The average American home uses 10,649 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually. This is nearly 11 million watts of energy per hour being used by each American household, amounting up to 96.3 billion watts every year for each household, and with each kWh of energy is equal to 0.92lbs of CO₂, there are over 1.9 billion short tons of CO₂ released per year in the United States. Due to the low-throughput of traditional electricity generation, the utility is expensive, costing 13.19¢ per kWh on average; this contributes to why over 16% of the world does not have access to power.

As technology and industrial activity continues to take precedence over the developing and the developed economy, the demand has increased from 11.4 billion tons of oil equivalent to a projected 17.7 billion and a 50% energy usage increase by 2030. Add to that the 2 billion extra individuals that will need electricity by 2040, and it is clear that the continued method of electricity generation will be detrimental for the environment, not only polluting the atmosphere, but the hydrosphere and geosphere, as coal combustion can also cause acid rain, and improper disposals can acidify oceans. Many times, power plants can cause myriad public health risks including asthma, cancer, heart and lung ailments, and even neurological problems. Residual coal ash can also result in respiratory issues.

Solar Energy & Others

If we cannot rely on fossil fuels to scale, we will need to design better energy generation schemes that are conservative from both a monetary and environmental standpoint. That is where a solution such as solar energy, or the harvesting of the energy from photons emitted by the sun through various types of material elements, such as silicon. Because solar energy relies on a physical phenomenon known as the photovoltaic effect, in which solar energy causes electrons in a material to move around, thus creating usable electricity, there is a limit to the efficiency of the materials. For example, crystalline-silicon based solar panels have a maximum output of 15%, meaning 85% of the absorbed solar energy is wasted.

However, with a CAGR of 20% and a recent $200bn market cap projection by 2027, the solar energy industry is rapidly evolving, with new technologies and such as thin-film, perovskite, and organic solar panels with higher versatility and efficiency, such as being flexible enough to be integrated into cars and windows. Solar is even being used into other inefficient and unsustainable industries, such as transportation. Fortune 500 companies such as Tesla have also begun introducing themselves to the solar market.  Here’s a summary of the current solar tech innovations:

Beyond just solar energy, there are many other renewable elemental sources, such as wind and water, that are also being used to generate energy. There are also some unique electricity generation methods being used in low-income areas, like lamps powered by a glass of saltwater and using the kinetic energy from rocks on a swing to turn on light bulbs.

|    For an in-depth article on how solar technology works, and the current state of photovoltaics
    and energy consumption, see my other solar article on Sundiata!

Unfortunately, analyses of these technologies indicate that they are self cannibalizing. You might be wondering, “how is solar energy or a windmill going to eat itself?” Well, this cannibalisation effect actually describes how when the penetration of renewable energy increases, wholesale electricity prices decrease as a result of the merit-order effect. Therefore, cannibalisation comes from penetration having an adverse effect on the energy market, reducing its value factors and revenue. It is therefore necessary for these technologies to complement each other; for example, increased solar penetration increases the value of wind energy. So, how will you, a consumer, play a role in the elaborate climate-tech web? Well, will tell, but ultimately, there is a lot you can do with solar panels. As technology continues to grow and develop, we will see prices drop and demand increase! Until then, invest in solar through stocks, crypto, and by supporting companies using and selling solar by placing your financial support in their products.

Together, we can create the future we want to see.

Together – with solutions in hand and our support in the other – we can create that future.

Before you go…

name’s Okezue, a developer and researcher obsessed with learning and building things, especially when it involves any form of STEM. Currently, I’m working at Microsoft making diagnostics more equitable, but I really love sustainability, neurotech, etc. Check out my socials below, or contact me: [email protected].

I write something new every week on Sundiata, so I hope to see you again soon! Make sure you comment, and leave some claps on this too — especially if you liked it! I sure enjoyed writing it!

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