- Renewable & Alternative Energy
The Revolution of Solar Energy
The Big Plan
One company plans to use similar reasoning to convince the planet of the benefits of using solar energy. SolarCity, based in the United States is expanding rapidly, and it provides a peek into a future where solar panels are not only affordable but aesthetically appealing. Here's how the company is taking the U.S. by storm. SolarCity is one of inventor Elon Musk's ambitious projects to transform the world through new technology. It supplies rooftop solar panels to residential customers, with the goal of harnessing as much of the sun's free energy as possible, in environmentally friendly, sustainable ways. In order to make this process easy and appealing, SolarCity offers a whole range of services from obtaining permits and installing panels to monitoring, repair, and electricity storage. As a result, once a deal is struck, the customer has barely anything left to worry about: the company takes care of technicalities. No wonder, then, that the service has gained popularity so quickly.
Technically, SolarCity only leases its solar panels to homeowners. It offers long-term contracts of 10-20 years, where the company provides energy for lower than utility prices, and the customer allows the installation of panels on the roof. At first, this replaces part of the household's energy consumption, but eventually it can grow to cover all of its energy needs. Leasing means customers don't actually own the equipment and they feed some of the solar power back into the grid. However, they get cheaper electricity, coupled with the knowledge that they are acting in environmentally conscious ways. Eventually, company and customer both benefit. One of this business model's extra perks is that even if customers have no interest in protecting the globe, cheaper power bills can motivate them to pick the green solution.
Electric Cars and Solar Energy
Originally a family business, SolarCity was founded by brothers Peter and Lyndon Rive, following the suggestion of their cousin, a certain Elon Musk. Musk gave a helping hand to the Rive brothers, and eventually, he took over at the helms of the company as chairman himself. In 2016, Tesla Motor's, Elon's other company, bought SolarCity. This brought together two closely related projects, since Tesla makes electric cars, and it also produces high-capacity batteries. After the merger, Musk's companies can now provide electric services from home to the workplace, and on the road in between. For a long time, Tesla actually offered free lifetime electric car charging on their networks of charging stations called Superchargers - now, another option is charging your car with solar energy at home.
In addition to installing residential solar panels, SolarCity is involved in several different projects. It supplies solar energy to large companies and organizations, including eBay, Walmart, Intel, the U.S. military, local governments in several states, as well as the entire Los Angeles school district. Recently, SolarCity has started partnering with homebuilders, installing solar panels on new houses even before their first residents arrive. This year, the company also announced their plans for an entire roof surface that functions as a solar panel, made of glass tiles. This brings quite a change in residential solar panels: while most panels look aesthetically unappealing and decrease the house's value, these glass tiles can actually improve the look. Elon Musk's bold plans for solar energy are far from outlandish: in fact, solar energy use has been growing fast in the past decades. This is more than understandable in light of its immense potential:
The sun provides 970 trillion kilowatt-hours of freely available energy every day! That is more energy than can be produced from the world's fossil fuels in a year!
The question is how to capture and store it. In the case of solar thermal energy, which uses the heat from sunlight to generate electricity, storage is fairly easy: heat can be sustained overnight. However, photovoltaic solar energy, which uses light directly, needs smart methods for storing after the sun goes down. SolarCity is aiming to have this covered: their new Gigafactory in Buffalo is going to produce batteries that help both individual and commercial customers keep all the energy produced during the day.
In 1977, the cost of producing 1 watt of energy with photovoltaic solar cells was 76 dollars. 37 years later, in 2014, that same cost was a mere 36 cents! This rapid reduction, among others, allows SolarCity to convince more and more families, firms, and cities that solar energy is worth it. Elon Musk hopes that in the long run,
solar power is going to cost less than coal- or gas-generated power from the grid everywhere on the planet.
That time may not be far - but even until then, he surely makes it seem like the future is closer than we thought.