Solar Energy Could Dominate All Others
Critics often dismiss solar energy as an unworkable idea, even by green energy advocates. The common criticism is that solar power requires a lot of real estate to become viable. But France may have found a solution that would decimate the oil industry within a few decades.
The country wants to pave 1,000 kilometers (approximately 621 miles) of road with solar panels and it wants to do it in the next five years. The move would distribute power to five million people, or roughly eight percent of France’s population. If the project is successful, it could start an unprecedented surge in demand for solar power. (Source: “This Solar Road Will Provide Power to 5.0 Million People,” Ecowatch, February 1, 2016.)
Space would no longer be a constraint. Harnessing solar power would no longer require huge tracts of land or rooftop panels. It could simply rely on the integration of solar panels into regular construction projects.
Roads and building could be supplying power to local areas. There aren’t many maintenance costs for solar power, nor are there any fuel inputs. It is a hands-off way at getting energy. Energy analyst David Roberts summarized this vision last year. (Source: “A solar future isn’t just likely—it’s inevitable,” Vox, April 28, 2015.)
“Imagine small, modular, highly efficient solar cells embedded in all newly built infrastructure as a matter of course—buildings, bridges, parking lots, vehicles,” said Roberts. “Solar PV would no longer be a category of product in itself, but a routine feature of other products.”
The slight hiccup is that solar panels aren’t yet efficient enough. France is using panels that only convert 15% of the light it absorbs into energy. At that rate, even covering all of New York City wouldn’t provide enough energy to power the city.
Those conditions, however, are far from permanent. Solar panels that yield 20% are already in production and lab tests have reached 46%. The improvements are coming to solar power and it could devastate traditional energy stocks.
The inverse relationship between oil and renewable energy became apparent last year. A fall in oil prices crushed the solar industry. But if France’s experiment proves successful, there could be a permanent swing in the other direction.