Protecting the Environment with Solar Energy: Challenges Faced in 2022 and Beyond

January 31, 20220

Solar Energy Expected to Continue Growth

According to the latest projections by HIS Markit, total investment in solar energy for this year (2022) will be USD170 million. This is a 20% growth from 2021 and for the first time in history, it will surpass the 200 GWdc barrier. Even though costs are expected to rise until 2023, when extra capacity will eventually bring relief. From 2013 to 2020, the cost of PV systems dropped by 50%, making them one of, if not the, most popular alternative sources of energy. While the industry has seen a price hike of 4% from 2020 to 2021, and this trend will continue in 2022, the new challenges facing the burgeoning market are not likely to overwhelm it. We can confirm this by seeing that installations in major countries like China, the United States, Australia and India are set to expand.

Return to Normal: 2023?

COVID-19 related disruptions in the global supply chain have led to price hikes in the solar industry. As we said earlier, this trend will continue through 2022. As it stands, the prices of solar PV systems are at 2019 levels. Power restrictions in mainland China further exacerbated this crisis by severely restricting outputs in key provinces. This caused the prices of key components and materials like silicon, solar glass, polysilicon and rear earth materials to skyrocket. As a point of reference, the cost of polysilicon has increased over 200% from October 2020 to October 2021. This caused module manufacturers to increase prices to a point where the average module today is 15% more expensive than in early 2021.

Inverters and other key components of solar energy systems were also affected. Shortages of semiconductor components and the rising price of steel have all contributed to this price hike. If this was not enough, shipping delays, which will continue well into 2022, are also driving up prices, and negatively impacting international projects. The problem is not demand, or even supply. There is a healthy appetite for global solar installations, but the supply chain has just not recovered sufficiently to meet this level of demand. The sheer number of components needed to manufacture and install a solar PV system means that the shortage of even one can become a bottleneck. Currently, this dubious distinction goes to the polysilicon market. This bottleneck will continue through 2022 and will hopefully stabilise by 2023.

From 2023 onwards, the prices of solar panels will resume their downward trend, albeit not with as much vigour as before. Even so, this will be a welcome reprieve for a market that is used to reducing prices and increasing efficiency. The Chinese government plans to ease power restrictions in 2023, as coal power ramps up to meet demands. Subsequently, the production of polysilicon and other key components should stabilise, easing the supply chain constraints. Increased panel efficiency through TOPCon technology offered by Jolywood should help further bolster the solar industry. By 2023, most of the global shipping should also be returning to normal. While it is too early to say that the supply chain issues will disappear altogether, it is safe to say that they will greatly diminish. From 2023, we can expect the beginning of a return to normalcy.

China to Retain the Lion’s Share

China will remain the leader in adopting solar technology, with the highest growth of solar capacity in 2022. This is unlikely to change for the next five years, as China has both a very strong demand and a robust supply system for renewable energy, predominantly solar. This is good news, given that last year, because of crippling energy shortages, China had to abandon its plan to phase out coal power. Instead, the Chinese government has phased out renewable subsidies and redoubled its reliance on coal since 2021, and this will, in all likelihood, remain unchanged in 2022. China will remain the world’s largest supplier for renewable energy with a 40% share in the market, followed by Europe, the US and India. Together, these nations account for 80% of the world’s renewable energy share. This hold on the global renewable supply capacity is projected to increase to 87% by 2026. While China’s share jumped to 50% in 2020 amid a rush to complete projects before the government phased out its subsidies, this acceleration will reduce in 2022. Even so, China is likely to remain the global leader, with a share of 43% in the global renewable energy supply chain.

Increase in Global Capacity

The global capacity for renewable energy is projected to increase 60% between 2020 and 2026, in which year it will reach 4,800GW. In 2022, the addition of “exceptionally high” renewable energy capacity will become the norm, according to the IEA, and renewable energy will account for 90% of all new power capacity expansion. This expansion in capacity will be strengthened by developments in PV technology. Solar technology will continue to evolve and break barriers and records.

Growing Support for Solar Energy in the US

In most parts of the world, Solar energy is outstripping wind energy by margins. Only in the United States does wind energy account for more power generation than solar (8% as opposed to under 3%). However, current American President Joe Biden aims to make the US energy grid completely green within 15 years. To achieve this, his administration plans to cut the cost of solar energy systems by 60% in the next decade. The only reason solar energy has been outshined by wind energy in the US is inconsistent government support, according to Jay Hakes, who was the head of the Energy information Administration at the Department of Energy from 1993 to 2000. This inconsistent approach to energy should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with America’s love-affair with oil, but Washington appears to have seen the light, literally and figuratively.

Uncertainty in National Policies Remains an Issue

The one factor that is difficult to account for is national policy. Nations like China, America and India represent the worlds largest solar energy markets, yet there is some policy uncertainty in these nations. Their decisions could adversely affect the solar market, its manufacturing capacity and installation rate. In China, for instance, the intensity and duration of the current power restrictions will determine the rate of domestic solar PV utilisation, as well as the volume of solar energy systems available to the international market. Similarly, in the United States, policy adjustments and configurations along with macroeconomic conditions have the potential to undermine 20% of the national utility-scale forecast this year. The major policy hurdles facing the US solar PV market are high costs, no national rebate scheme like in Australia, increasing difficulty in importing modules from international suppliers, particularly China, and the looming extension of the ITC scheme.

Solar Energy: Vital for Environmental Sustainability

There are two primary reasons why solar panels are favoured by businesses and residences:

  • Solar panels offer considerable financial benefit to their owners.
  • Solar panels offer considerable benefits to the environment.

In many of our other articles, we have written at length about the financial benefits of solar panels. For this segment, we are going to consider the environmental benefits and long-term challenges of using solar panels on a large scale. We will consider the benefits of using solar panels as well as what sort of challenges this technology brings with it.

The Environmental Benefits of Solar Panels

Most electricity in Australia and in the world is produced by burning fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and oil. This results in the emission of carbon dioxide, the primary culprit behind the runaway temperature of the world that we refer to as global warming. Solar panels use the power of the sun to create electricity, and so they do not expel any CO2 emissions or local air pollutants. Furthermore extracting, refining and using fossil fuels is expensive, dangerous and invasive. It is harmful and destructive for the environment. Solar energy, on the other hand, is free, readily abundant and requires no harmful or invasive extraction methods. Furthermore, sunlight is not a diminishing resource. One hour of sunlight provides enough energy to power the entire world for a year.

Investing in solar energy is an excellent way to reduce reliance on fossil fuels in favour of one of nature’s most abundant and consistent sources of energy. Considering the rate of climate change and the potential extinction of thousands of animal, plant and insect species, we cannot ignore the consequences of proceeding ‘business as usual’. Investing in renewables as much as financially prudent should be an individual as well as national goal. We cannot rely on governments alone to protect our future and the future of our children. That is why, we at Prosun Solar believe that it is essential for individuals to invest in solar energy as soon and as much as possible. For our part, we try and make the process as swift, easy and streamlined as possible. We provide the best, most efficient, longest lived and most affordable solar panels on the market, coupled with robust customer support services. We hope to make your transition to solar energy as easy as possible. If you are an existing solar user looking for an expansion, we aim to make your experience as smooth as possible.

Solar Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Solar energy is the best direct counter to greenhouse gas emissions. These gases not only heat up the environment, but also cause considerable health issues among exposed populations. These risks range from pulmonary and cardiac disorders to cancer. Wildfires in Australia, Brazil, America and Turkey are also attributed to global warming and CO2 emissions, as are increasingly frequent tropical storms and floods in the Americas and Asia.

Going solar is what you can do to help combat these disasters. By shrinking our carbon footprint, we can give the earth reprieve from manmade disasters and allow the natural habitat to recover and repopulate. Protecting the world is not only a necessity, but also a duty. Installing even one solar energy system on a residence can have a measurable effect on the environment.

Connecticut is a good example of the effect of solar panels combating climate change. Connecticut in the US is not particularly known for its sunny weather, and the average home in the city uses 8,288 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per annum, according to the US Energy Information Administration. If one home in Connecticut were to switch to solar energy, even in the city’s suboptimal solar exposure, the benefit would be equivalent to planting 150 trees every for the lifespan of that panel. For reference, most solar panels have a high-efficiency lifespan of thirty years. After this, they are not useless, but their efficiency just drops.

Solar panels also eliminate carbon emissions equivalent to burning over 2268 kilograms of coal per year.

Solar Panels and Local Air Quality

Long term benefits to global health can be difficult to measure, but the benefits to local air quality are more readily apparent. One of the biggest benefits of solar energy is that it controls local air pollution very effectively and swiftly. According to an analysis conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NERL), widespread adoption of solar PV systems can significantly reduce sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides, and particulate matter emissions. All of these pollutants cause diseases in plants, people and animals. According to the NERL analysis, increased solar installations coincided with reduced cardiovascular disorders, chronic bronchitis and pulmonary disorders. In addition to this, people reported having to take less days off work due to health issues.

Solar Energy Reduces the Strain on Finite Resources

Solar energy is infinite. Relying on it to run our lives can reduce the strain on finite resources like oil, natural gas and coal. The manufacturing process of solar energy requires rare-earth minerals and other natural resources, but the amount of natural resources needed is much less in comparison to traditional sources of energy.

Water Scarcity and Solar Panels

Water, for instance, is a key component in the manufacturing of solar panels. However, the amount of water needed in the manufacturing process of solar panels is dramatically less than in other forms of energy. Nuclear, natural gas and coal fired facilities need massive amounts of water to keep their systems and components cool, and the danger of pollution or nuclear fallout from a damaged reactor are immense. Solar energy is completely safe, and there is zero risk of pollution to local water bodies. Furthermore, the amount of water required is not nearly enough to stress local agriculture and drinking systems.

Other Natural Resources and Solar Panels

The earth’s population will continue to grow, and our demand for resources will follow suit. Our modern economies are built around extensive consumerism and increased growth. Economic progress is measured by growth. Every year companies must turn a larger profit to be considered financially viable. The solar industry is no exception to this rule. In the olden days, our ancestors had the luxury of not having to think of these things. The world was large and wide. Its breadth unlimited, its resources limitless. Today, we no longer have the luxury of such fanciful musings. The earth’s resources are finite, and its ability to sustain our way of life even more so. If we maintain our current rate of consumption, nature will revolt against us destructive and gluttonous way of life long before we suck dry the last drop of oil and drill out the last mineral. Nature is balance, and that balance will be restored with or without the human race. Perhaps we can all agree that a future where humanity is still alive, and prospering is a much better one than a future without our consciousness. Humanity, after all, may be the only way the universe has to discover itself. Losing this spark of consciousness in an attempt to quench an insatiable appetite would be sad beyond measure. One way we can avoid this gloomy fate is by simply refusing to go down this self-destructive path.

The earth’s resources may be limited, but the sun’s light, for all intents and purposes, is not. It is the earth’s most abundant source of energy, providing a staggering 170,000 terawatts of energy every second. This is over 10,000 times the global energy consumption and it is consistently available. Solar energy is the single best way to stave off a catastrophic shortage of resources. Solar PV systems use only a fraction of the minerals and natural resources used by conventional energy systems. It is cheaper, safer, and far better for the environment. Investing in solar energy is the one home improvement investment that will pay for itself over time and will have an immediate and measurable impact on the local environment.

Global Politics and Solar Power

By contrast, fossil fuels cause pollution, environmental degradation, they are non-renewable and extracting them renders the habitats of many plant and animal species uninhabitable. Extracting fossil fuels is also expensive and their usage is not sustainable. Furthermore, fossil fuels, particularly oil and natural gas are not distributed evenly across the globe. Some regions (the Middle East) have far greater reserves than others. As a result, these regions have a lot more strategic importance than many other nations, but this gift has consistently proven to be a curse. Many middle eastern countries have found out the hard way that more powerful nations are more than happy to plunder their natural gifts. Middle eastern countries have, in recent memory, always been warzones. Powerful nations have taken it upon themselves to ensure that the supply of oil remains smooth, no matter the cost of human life. Successive democratic middle eastern governments have been toppled for the crime of suggesting that their people have a right to partake in the wealth of their land. On the other hand, many have thrived and grown into tyrannical Petro-Monarchies. These powerful Petro-Nations are today involved in some of the world’s worst humanitarian rights abuses, yet their strategic importance and immense wealth shield them from any repercussions. Solar energy can balance the scales. The sun is everywhere. While some areas are sunnier than others, it is an established fact that even in cooler climates like Europe and Canada, solar power is still a very viable source of energy. By eliminating the need to compete for the dwindling resources that sustain our lifestyles, we can remove one of the primary causes of conflict in some of the world’s most turbulent regions. If human beings no longer have to suffer from energy insecurity, we can cooperate more openly. Solar energy is a prime example for this. The global supply chain includes countries like China and America, who happen to be locked in an increasingly intense strategic competition. Yet they find common ground in solar energy, which China providing from 23-35% of American solar panels. The same holds true for China and India. China provides a chunk of India’s solar panels. Solar energy gives us reasons to stop competing and to work together.

One of today’s most intense tension zones is the Ukraine-Russia border. In recent months, the Russian military has amassed over 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border. Moscow is threatening its smaller neighbour with the largest invasion since World War II unless NATO meets certain demands. You would not be alone in suggesting that this sounds like a hostage situation. It most certainly is. As America and its allies scramble to try and prevent this act of aggression, one of their chief concerns in European capitals, particularly Berlin, is that Russia’s Putin may turn off the gas supply to Europe, causing energy prices to soar. The risk of an energy shortage in Europe is severe, and the EU must consider its dependence on Russia before taking any punitive measures. Again, solar energy provides an avenue to solve this problem. While this proposal will take millions, if not billions, of dollars and perhaps a few decades to complete, if Europe were to switch to solar energy and wean itself off Russian gas, the next autocrat in Moscow may find it far more difficult to send tanks rolling over his neighbour’s fence. The EU may have to invest in solar energy plants in Africa, from where energy could then be imported to Europe. This would also be a win-win situation, as Africa has gotten the short end of the stick for far too long. Investing in Africa would benefit not only Europe, but also one of the most impoverished regions of the world.

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