Launched in association with Solarcentury and SolarAid, our new hub will bring together the very best coverage of one the world's brightest clean tech sectors
One of my favourite questions for green business leaders and policymakers is to ask which clean tech sector they would invest in personally if they had to select one technology that is likely to change the world over the next two decades. It is, of course, an unfair question, given everyone who works in the green economy knows we need a mix of low carbon technologies to deliver steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions - a silver ammunition belt rather than a silver bullet, if you will. As such, you get an unsurprisingly wide range of answers from obvious clean tech categories, such as energy efficiency or energy storage, to more niche emerging technologies such as algae-based biofuels and advanced light-weight materials.
However, in my experience there is one clean technology that gets tipped more often than any other: solar. The reasons for solar's popularity range from the psychological to the technological, but often boil down to the innate elegance of directly transforming solar radiation into usable heat and electricity.
The vast majority of the energy used to power the global economy is at root solar power, be it the highly condensed solar energy found in the fossilised organic material that is otherwise known as coal, oil, and gas, or the manifestation of solar power in the atmosphere in the form of wind energy. Faced with this reality scientists and engineers have long laboured to try to harness that solar power directly, inspired in no small part by that famous map demonstrating how all of the energy used to power the global economy is equivalent to the energy that falls on an area of the Sahara so small that it is barely visible.
In the past few years, these scientists and engineers have enjoyed considerable success. An underreported global energy revolution is gathering pace with solar in the vanguard. The various facts and figures are truly remarkable: the IEA reckons 28.4GW of solar capacity was added last year, while the European Photovoltaic Industry Association puts the figure at over 31GW; the 100GW installed capacity mark should be reached this year; and projections suggest the market could be adding 84GW of capacity a year by 2017. All of this expansion is driven by one remarkable achievement: according to the US Solar Energy Industries Association the price of solar power in the US has fallen 60 per cent since early 2011.
Inevitably, this sunny assessment is not without its clouds on the horizon. The actual pace of solar technology deployment has slowed slightly in the past two years as the mature markets of Europe have been affected by policy changes, while the rapid fall in prices remains partly the result of a glut of panels from China that has led to industry consolidation and a simmering trade row with the US and EU. Moreover, like many other renewable energy technologies solar power remains a variable source of energy and despite falling solar panel prices the levelised cost of solar power currently remains well above that of grid power in many geographies.
But the industry is both aware of these challenges and working hard to address them. The fact remains that the cost of solar technologies has fallen drastically and there is plenty of evidence to suggest advances in nanotechnology and manufacturing will allow this downward trend to continue. It does not have a name yet, but something akin to Moore's Law - the rule of thumb that computing power doubles every two years - appears to be at play in the solar sector as efficiencies steadily rise and costs steadily fall. There are growing numbers of examples of regions where solar technologies can undercut fossil fuels as a provider of both on and off-grid power, while advances in solar thermal and PV storage technologies are making round-the-clock solar power a reality.
Arguably most exciting of all is the way in which solar technologies are showing themselves to be remarkably malleable, both literally and in terms of their numerous applications. Everyone will be familiar with rooftop solar panels and solar farms, but we are also seeing the emergence concentrated solar thermal towers, flexible solar thin film cells that can power solar clothes, solar gadgets and solar lights, building integrated solar technologies, such as solar windows and even solar curtains, ultra-high efficiency concentrated solar PV, and portable off-grid solar generators that can support development projects by providing clean power to off-grid communities. All of these technologies are maturing, enabling equally innovative business and investment models, ranging from solar financing and leasing to community solar investment and humanitarian development.
The potential for solar technology is as virtually limitless as the solar radiation that warms our planet each and every day. It is one of the most compelling clean tech success stories and a source of constant innovation, and as such it is the subject of BusinessGreen's first content hub.
Delivered in partnership with Solarcentury and Solar Aid, and designed to highlight all the latest news, analysis and opinion on emerging technologies and projects, the hub will keep you up-to-date on all the developments in this most vibrant of industries. Drawing on expert analysis and opinion from across the sector, including Climate Change Minister Greg Barker, former Chief Scientist Sir David King, and Solarcentury Founder Jeremy Leggett, this dedicated new BusinessGreen service will demonstrate why solar power is so popular, explore how it is overcoming barriers to deployment, and highlight the huge economic and environmental benefits that come with this most elegant of technologies.
The launch of the hub also comes hot on the heels of the news Solar Aid has secured a match funding agreement with DFID, meaning all donations made this winter to support the charity's work to deploy solar technologies in developing countries will be doubled.
There has never been a better time to engage with the UK's solar industry and the new BusinessGreen Solar Hub will help to keep everyone from senior corporate executives to green campaigners and consumers up to date with this most exciting of sectors.
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