ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Technology»
  • Renewable & Alternative Energy

The Revolution of Solar Energy

Updated on October 27, 2017
WriterBoy90 profile image

Expert in Human Ecology and an enthusiastic environmentalist.

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.

A German Solar City
A German Solar City

Technical Background

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.

Elon Musk, the leader of Tesla and SolarCity
Elon Musk, the leader of Tesla and SolarCity

Expanding Services

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.

Solar energy is the best „fuel” for cars
Solar energy is the best „fuel” for cars

Bright Future

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.

This Is How Solar Roof Looks Like

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • CHRIS57 profile image

      CHRIS57 3 months ago from Northern Germany

      Stephan, i am totally with you and your enthusiasm for PV. However it is easy to talk about Europe and Germany in particular. I run a couple of PV-systems here in Northern Germany. Some say it is professional entrepreneurship, i would say it is my hobby to outrun the tax system. Anyhow the business case gives a double digit ROI after tax. I never voted "Green" party. I looked for good deals. It is only about earning money.

      Now - I would not even think about doing the same somewhere else on our planet, especially not in the USA. Simply no reason to go Photo-Voltaic. Grid Electricity cost is too low. Political will is not there.

      Initiatives are only good if they are supported by financial background. In that sense any example in Germany is a "lost" example. Financial background is given for sure in G. But not for the USA, or Canada, or Korea, or Russia or ...

    • WriterBoy90 profile image
      Author

      Stephan 3 months ago from Budapest, Hungary

      Dear CHRIS57, thanks your comment.

      (1) I am not a member of SolarCity company, I have just introduced a great initiative. Of course there are lots of similar great technology, like the brand new (Oct. 2017) transparent solar cells, which have the potential of supplying some 40 percent of energy demand in the U.S. – about the same potential as rooftop solar units, mentioned in this article. And imagine, they could get us close to 100 percent of our demand if we also improve energy storage. More details here: www.goo.gl/K7XKUr

      (2) I am happy you wrote from Germany, probably you know there are two Solar Cities: Sonnenschiff and Solarsiedlung in Freiburg.

      (3) The technology will be cheaper, more achievable, and more advanced. The governments can accelerate this process if they support these technologies instead of fossil and nuclear energy.

    • CHRIS57 profile image

      CHRIS57 3 months ago from Northern Germany

      Seems you want to promote the ideas of your company. But anyways: a nice article on a nice and interesting topic.

      Question: Doesn´t the whole thing of solar energy only work if you have a business case? Let´s make it simple. Today 1 kWp should cost all in something like $1200 (thanks to cheap Chinese panels and converters :-)

      In a fairly sunny region, 1 kWp will generate some 1200 kWh of electricity. In a 10 year period that is 12.000 kWh or 10 cents per kWh. Is that realistic? May be the panels last for another 10 years (no hurricanes, no tornadoes) and you get a 100% payback of your invested money after 20 years and if, yes if you can sell the electricity to the grid at that price. Problem is: Average kWh is between 10 to 11 cents in the US. And that is sell, not buy.

      For me here in Germany i can play this business case piano very easy with high tax breaks, subsidised grid infusion and low interest rates. But in the US? Not very likely. You need some enthusiast like Elon Musk and even he struggles. Guess why.

    working