The solar revival

Cheaper panels will take the emphasis off subsidies

Share

The evolution of plant photosynthesis was a defining moment in the early history of life on Earth.  By converting sunlight into stored forms of energy, plants enabled life to evolve into the wondrous complexity of living organisms we recognise today.

We are now of course burning through one of these photosynthetic energy stores – the fossil fuels buried underground for millions of years – with potentially disastrous consequences for the environment. This is why we need safe, renewable alternatives to coal, oil and gas.

Solar power is one such renewable energy source. Like photosynthesis, it relies on capturing and converting sunlight into another form of power – electricity in the case of the photovoltaic (PV) cells of solar panels.

The trouble with solar, as many homeowners with solar panels on their roof will explain, is that it is costly. It can take between 10 and 15 years to recoup the costs of the panels, even with generous government subsidies and feed-in tariffs.

However, the march of technological progress is making PV cells cheaper and cheaper. Forty years ago, when solar panels first came on to the market, the cost of generating a watt of PV electricity was about $70, at 2012 prices, whereas it is less than a dollar today. The next generation of PV cells, based on cadmium telluride instead of silicon, will be made even cheaper by the kind of technological advances announced by scientists at Liverpool University, who have replaced a toxic and expensive component of  cadmium cells with one based on an edible sea-salt.

Before the credit crunch of 2008, solar power was seen as the most exciting of the renewables. But this was helped by generous EU and government subsidies that have since dwindled to a trickle. Now, we are on the cusp of a new renaissance in solar power, this time driven by hard economics rather than subsidies. The scientists behind this latest advance therefore deserve the applause and support of everyone interested in a cleaner, greener future – not just in Britain, but far beyond.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Print / Warehouse Operative

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Supply Chain Assistant

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Advisor

£13000 - £13500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Energy Broker & Sales Consultant - OTE £65,000

£18000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Long-established Energy Brokers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The dress can be seen in different colours  

White and gold or blue and black - why has this dress captured our collective imaginations?

Victoria Richards
 

Daily catch-up: the battle of the election videos, and a robot sarcasm detector

John Rentoul
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower