November 12, 2007 (Credit Suisse Equity Research) – The first solar modules of the 1950s achieved an efficiency of just 6 percent. The figure for today’s silicon-based cells is over 20 percent, meaning that more than a fifth of the captured sunlight is turned into electrical energy. The current world record is held by special cells for satellite applications, which are over 40 percent efficient. Low-cost solar energy will likely be available everywhere in just a few years’ time, with a corresponding shift in the structure of energy generation away from central power plants toward more local installations.
In the future, solar power will not be generated on the roofs of industrial halls or at large-scale solar farms alone. The latest technologies open the door to a whole range of new applications, such as nano-coated cell phones or laptops which recharge their batteries automatically via their active photovoltaic cases and homes that have power-generating windows. Second-generation cells, known as thin-film modules, are already more cost-effective, can be molded into any shape, and are lightweight and therefore easy to integrate into a variety of materials, on roofs and facades and even in textiles. The widespread image of solar installations as bulky eyesores could therefore soon be a thing of the past.
As the worldwide promotion of renewable energies gains in importance, so too does that of lightweight, efficient means of storing energy. Demand is being driven primarily by two large and fast-growing markets. The first is for hybrid and electrical vehicles which, according to the market research company Freedonia, will expand by up to 50 percent over the next three years. The second is created by the dependency of the manufacturers of a rapidly expanding array of mobile electronic applications on ever more efficient batteries.
Batteries in the Fast Lane
Both markets exhibit a clear trend toward improved, ultralight lithiumion (rechargeable) batteries with a very high energy density and new nano-coated electrodes, which allow them to be recharged very quickly. With these new batteries, electrical vehicles should soon achieve mileages comparable to those of conventional automobiles. What’s more, a full recharge should take less than 10 minutes and cost only a fraction of a full tank of liquid fuel. The major auto producers in both Japan and the US have recognized this potential and instructed well-known battery manufacturers to develop such low-cost, high-performance batteries.
These clean technologies will certainly become part of our daily lives. The question is – to what extent? While the long-term winners on the industrial side have yet to be identified, the social beneficiaries are clear.Future generations will thank us for setting our sights on solar energy.