Exploring New Solar Opportunities

Exploring New Solar PV Opportunities


By Christofer Fisher, Segen’s Solar Blogger

Globally, the costs for Solar PV installations has been drastically decreasing for many years now. Solar panel prices have reached incredible record lows over the last 12 months and we are seeing those savings translate to an increase in the number of installations. This leads us to the question of how do we get the price of installation to be even cheaper? The answer is simple, we need to maximise the potential of the unused spaces around us.

When Elon Musk was faced with the challenge of having to bring down the cost of Lithium ion batteries, his vision was clear. Using the “first principals” approach, he broke the different components of a battery down to their individual pieces to access its base cost. This experiment showed that less than half the cost of the batteries on the market were actually for the raw materials. The remaining cost difference was associated to the different manufacturing process and this was then identified as the key target to reduce the market price of Lithium ion batteries around the world. By ensuring that production lines up scaled up and always strived for efficiency, this variable in the price of batteries could be reduced. The same can be said for Solar PV installations. When panels, inverters and mounting solutions are at their cheapest, what other costs are limiting their rapid deployment?

After decades of advancements in technology and manufacturing; inverters and panels are competitively priced. Installation techniques and the scale at which companies now operate is also at its most cost effective since this young industry began. One of the leading costs for Solar PV installations is now the actual land that these arrays sit on. Homeowners and businesses (for the most part) are fortunate that they usually have vacant roof spaces above their heads which are ideal for PV installations. But what about larger solar projects which are required to reach our Net Zero targets? They must go through the process of attaining expensive land and applying for complicated permits to develop that space into a functioning Solar PV site. This wait (and cost) is often more tedious than the physical installation of the equipment into the ground.

The solution to this is to explore the areas where land is not at a premium and looking to use innovative new technologies to maximise unused space like never before. The areas I believe that offer the most potential are: AgriVoltaics, Floating Solar and Solar Car Ports.

AgriVoltaics is a fascinating new sector of the Solar PV world where farmers are looking to maximise the profits from their land. In some places, it is actually forbidden to install solar arrays on arable land which can be used for growing crops. But the beauty of AgriVoltaics is that you allow Solar PV to work hand in hand with crops, to utilise the same land to grow food and produce electricity. Solar panels can either be installed on raised mounting systems that are high above the crops below or in multiple rows of vertically stacked panels to form a “solar fence”. The first method actually allows crops to receive valuable shade during hot summer months while still allowing farmers to generate an income from PV energy exports. Method two works by spacing these solar fences a few meters apart so that crops can grow freely and tractors can manoeuvre to harvest those crops. While this method can be used to generate farmers income from selling excess energy back to the grid, it is also a popular option for large scale Solar PV developers to offer farmers a passive income by renting their land to incorporate solar panels while not affecting their crop yields. This solution helps farmers who are fighting the effects of Climate Change which is threatening the predictability of their annual crop yields.

Still bodies of water maybe almost be the perfect definition of “cheap land”, as these lakes normally serve no other purpose. Hydroelectric dams, old quarries and artificial ponds are all ideal candidates for Floating Solar PV. With this technology, solar panels are placed onto floatation devices which keep them above the water and keep the arrays fastened together. These panels are then all connected back to the shore where they can be directly attached to the grid. This new innovation then can act as a frontier for reducing the cost of Solar PV installations by making use of otherwise unused space. With many GigaWatts (GW) already deployed in China, this technology is now rapidly expanding across Europe and North America.

The last opportunity I’ve identified is the humble car park. This once single-use piece of land was solely designed to just be areas to park our cars while we don’t need them. Solar Car Ports offer a few benefits on top of the energy they produce. They also provide shade to the people who park underneath them, be it from sun, snow or rain. Also, these units are excellent to be paired with Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations, as you’re generating power directly onsite which can go straight into the cars. This technology also allows businesses with limited or unusable roof spaces to achieve Solar PV installations that before would have been unthinkable.

All of these exciting fields of technological innovation are helping pave the way for even cheaper Solar PV installations. They will all play vital roles in reducing carbon emissions around the world as we look to maximise the space available for such renewable energy projects in the future. As a bonus opportunity, I really believe there is also a not so distant future in which we will see massive Solar PV installations floating in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Which, with their constant exposure to direct sunlight, would allow us to beam down energy waves to receivers based on Earth. But sadly, that is not the focus of this article.

The way we look at Solar PV installations going forward will be critical to their success in achieving our Net Zero goals. We need to be constantly innovating and thinking outside the box when it comes to the deployment of such technology. The advancements in AgriVoltaics, Floating Solar and Solar Car Ports are all crucial first steps towards integrating renewable energy into our everyday lives.

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