As the world’s interest in sources of clean and efficient energy increases and the world’s supply of oil and natural gas inevitably decline, taking a critical look at renewable energy assets to ensure our future has never been more important. There are various sources of renewable energy, but one renewable asset that could meet our energy needs for many years to come is solar power.
With modern technology, we can easily convert sunlight into power. Of course, an even more attractive feature of solar energy is that the sun’s energy is free. If we used the sun as our primary energy source, we could stop worrying about like future oil and natural gas shortages and lower our utility costs as well.
We urgently require an energy source that can address our issues without killing the planet, and the answer is clearly solar.
NREL is exclusive in the solar research ecosystem
Founded in 1966, NREL (the National Renewable Energy Lab) is the only federal laboratory dedicated to the research, development, commercialization, and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. NREL is the main think tank for the use – both present and future – of energy resources.
NREL is best known for its high quality research regarding solar system technology although it also supports research related to sustainable transportation systems; wind, water and geothermal sources of renewable energy; energy productivity in terms of both residential and commercial buildings; and energy distribution and storage.
NREL’s website indicates that its photovoltaic (PV) research and development focus is on boosting solar cell conversion efficiencies; lowering the cost of solar cells, modules, and systems; and improving the reliability of PV components and systems. NREL researchers lead solar energy research in tandem with universities and the solar industry through over 600 research partnerships and direct support of the NREL Solar Program and the Solar America Initiative. As the pioneer in solar innovation, specialists around the globe look to NREL to develop and to explain the value of new solar technologies.
Fast solar PV market evolution means moving targets for researchers
As NREL continues its role in the development of new energy efficient technologies, it also makes an important contribution to our understanding of current energy policies, energy-related developments across the globe – in particular, China – and of the factors contributing to the cost of solar energy system installation and use. For example, NREL data indicate that the costs to install solar photovoltaic (PV) systems continued to decline in the first quarter of 2016 in the U.S. residential, commercial, and utility-scale sectors, according to updated benchmarks from the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Driving the cost reductions were lower module and inverter prices, increased competition, lower installer and developer overheads, improved labor productivity, and optimized system configurations.
Field-based research makes or breaks solar PV technology
At NREL’s Outdoor Test Facility (OTF), rows of solar panels generate low cost energy despite the rain, snow, and even hail that Golden, CO winters usually produce. Field-based research means that a wide-range of variables can influence the outcome of the studies being conducted but results continue to support solar energy as a viable solution to our energy problems and to support an expanding market. The U.S. solar market was set to grow a 119 percent in 2016 says GTM Research (Green Tech Media) in its latest U.S. Solar Market Insight Report 2015 Year in Review, published in conjunction with the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). GTM Research forecast 16 gigawatts (GW) of solar would be installed in the U.S. in 2016, more than doubling the record-breaking 7.3 GW installed in 2015.
A decentralized grid poses serious digital security threats that require immediate attention
Just before the onset of 2017, Congress extended a number of vital federal tax credits that gave a boost to the renewable energy industry. As a result, more affordable wind, utility-scale solar, and distributed solar will be driving additional research and development related to energy storage and distribution. As power grids face the task of coordinating more DERs (distributed energy resources) and moving from a centralized to a decentralized model, issues arise regarding grid adaptability and security. The strategic value of central power stations and mass transmission lines diminishes as more power is produced and saved closer to the client. However, the digital security risks actually rise with decentralization because there are more access points for malicious hackers. The physical distribution and use of renewable solar energy will require concurrent efforts to ensure the safety and security of those both generating and using that power.
Each of these issues will continue to be addressed by researchers in the field of renewable solar energy. In the meantime, both residential and commercial consumers should take advantage of the benefits of solar energy. It is readily available, non-polluting and the costs continue to come down as new technologies are developed and energy systems become better integrated. Both state and federal tax credits help make costs even more affordable. The future is now.