In 2014, solar accounted for fully a third of all new US generation capacity; and as shown in the figure below, residential, commercial, and (especially) utility-scale PV installations have all flourished in recent years.
Since 2008, the cost of the module has dropped by 85%, but the BOS cost hasn’t changed much at all. Silicon isn’t very good at absorbing sunlight, so a thick, brittle layer is needed to do the job, and keeping it from cracking requires mounting it on a heavy piece of glass.
Today, the solar module is responsible for just one-fifth of the total cost of a residential installation and one-third of the cost of a utility-scale installation in the United States. A silicon PV module is therefore rigid and heavy—features that raise the BOS cost.
“Solar is a much more democratic resource,” notes Jean.
And the world is beginning to take advantage of it.
The researchers’ first task was to examine their energy resource—sunlight.
To no one’s surprise, the assessment confirmed that solar energy is abundantly available and quite evenly distributed across the globe.“What we need is a cell that performs just as well but is thinner, flexible, lightweight, and easier to transport and install,” says Bulović.Research teams worldwide are now on the track of making such a PV cell.One of the few renewable, low-carbon energy resources that could scale up to meet worldwide electricity demand is solar.Silicon solar cells do a good job transforming the sun’s energy into electricity today, but will they be up to the task in the future, when vast solar deployment will be needed to mitigate climate change?In addition, such a chronological scheme treats older technologies pejoratively.“Third generation” will always sound better than “first generation.” But silicon—a first-generation technology—still offers many advantages and commands the vast majority of the solar cell market.It varies by only about a factor of three across densely populated areas, and it isn’t highly correlated with economic wealth.In contrast, fossil fuels, uranium, and suitable sites for hydropower are heavily concentrated, creating potential tensions between the haves and have-nots.An MIT assessment of solar energy technologies concludes that today’s widely used crystalline silicon technology is efficient and reliable and could feasibly be deployed at the large scale needed to mitigate climate change by midcentury.But novel photovoltaic (PV) technologies now being developed using specially designed nanomaterials may one day provide significant advantages.