Solar energy is still a relatively new phenomenon in terms of serving as a new energy supply to rival the use of fossil fuels. However, as Fares and Webber (2017), Lewis (2016) and other researchers show, solar energy has its usesâ€”but also its limitations. Understanding where solar energy is capable of being advanced and where it has run into walls in terms of utilization are key to developing pathways to greater research and development opportunities (Lewis, 2016). Simply storing solar energy in an effective way has proved problematic (Sinsermsuksakul, Sun, Lee et al., 2014)â€”but even here, advancements are being made to help show how creative solutions are being proposed to harness solar energy efficiently (Assuncao, Moura & Almeida, 2016). Still, as Luthra, Kumar, Garg and Haleem (2015) point out, not all of the limitations of solar energy are technology-related: some of these limitations are social, political, economical and infrastructural as well. This literature review will examine the uses and limitations of solar energy according to the latest in research.
The uses of solar energy are numerous: solar cells are created using earth-abundant resourcesâ€”such as tin, zinc, oxygen and sulfur; the cells collect light energy from the sun, which jolts loose atoms from the semiconductor material in the cell (Sinsermsuksakul et al., 2014). When electrical conductors are attached to form an electrical circuit, the electrons that are jolted loose are captured in an electrical current which is what allows solar cells to be used as an energy supply for everything from homes, to businesses, to cars (Assuncao et al., 2016). Nonetheless, in spite of the relatively simple way in which solar cells collect energy and make it available for those in need of electric power, the technology is still relatively limited in terms of where it should theoretically beâ€”and part of this reason is because of the lack of research on moving these cells forward (Sinsermsuksakul et al., 2014). When the issue of solar energy is discussed in current literature, the main focus is on the usage of solar cells, which continue to receive attention from researchers as their maximum potential has yet to be reached, as Sinsermsuksakul et al. (2014) show. All the same, when breakthroughs are made, they still tend to be small: for example, the doubling of efficiency of thin-film solar cells achieved by Sinsermsuksakul et al. (2014) still only gave the cells roughly 1/10th of their theoretical potential as energy providers. For that reason, other researchers have also begun to see how solar thermal and solar fuels technologies may be advanced in light of the restrictions posed by solar cells (Lewis, 2016).
That is also why it is important to remember that solar cellsâ€”though some advancement has been made in this areaâ€”are only one aspect or the solar energy field. The study by Lewis (2016) focuses on current research opportunities on solar energy utilization and ways in which this energy source can be advanced in the modern world. And he is not alone: Assuncao et al. (2016) have begun examining alternative ways in which solar energy can be advanced. For example, in their study, they look at the use of repurposing electric vehicle (EV) batteries for the residential sector so as to support solar energy development. Their findings show that repurposing EV batteries can be both cost-effective and technically possible for homes seeking to unite solar energy power with the infrastructural grid already established. This type of approach conforms to the recommended guidance of Lewis (2016) who stipulates that more research has to be conducted outside the boxâ€”i.e., in creative and thoughtful ways that demonstrate the extent of the utility of solar energy so that it can be more meaningfully integrated into the lives of the modern individual. Thus, Lewis (2016) notes that creating more efficient solar cells is not the only way in which the sunâ€™s energy can be harnessed and used: the researcher also points out that there is the potential for solar energy to be stored on the grid, and for solar thermal and solar fuels to be used in terms of harnessing solar energy. Lewis (2016) does highlight that solar energy is currently limited in terms of representing a small fraction of the total global energy supplyâ€”but usage of solar energy is always growing in estimation among technicians, lawmakers, environmental advocacy groups, and numerous stakeholders around the world, which serves to bring more focus and attention to the researching and development of solar energy usage. However, there still remain technological gaps in the production of low-cost solar panels that are scalable and that can be combined with current storage technology so as to provide distributable energy to consumers. This, by far, is the main limitation of solar energy in the todayâ€™s energy climate.
Lewis (2016) is not alone in identifying that limitation, either. Luthra et al. (2015) also identify it in their study of the barriers that prevent solar energy from being adopted on a large scale in nations like India, where the infrastructure, economic system, and political structure of the country is set up in a way that relies heavily on fossil fuels as the main source of energy. And, yet, in spite of the severe shortages that stem from this fossil fuel source, solar energy is still not seen as a viable alternativeâ€”at least not in the near-term horizon because of the seven specific barriers to solar energyâ€™s adoption. These barriers are categorized as: â€œEconomical & Financial; Market; Awareness & Information; Technical; Ecological and Geographical; Cultural & Behavioral; and Political & Government Issuesâ€ (Luthra et al., 2016). In other words, the problems with implementing solar energy in a nation like India have much more to do with the way in which society is set up than with the actual technology itselfâ€”though the technology certainly plays a part in the equation.
While researchers like Assuncao et al. (2016) attempt to creatively find solutions to solar energy issuesâ€”such as how a home can rely on a solar cell that only produces a 1/10th of its expected or theoretical powerâ€”by repurposing EV batteries for domestic use, the issues of social acceptance, finance, education, geopolitics, legislation and regulation, and market concerns (can solar power even penetrate the energy market if the market is dominated by fossil fuel players that will refuse to concede market share?) still remain and cannot be answered just because there is a doubling of solar cell efficiency (which is still small in the bigger scheme of things) (Sinsermsuksakul et al., 2014) or because EV batteries can be repurposed to facilitate home usage of solar energy (Assuncao et al., 2016). Fares & Webber (2017) also highlight how solar energy in the home can be used to reduce reliance on the utility gridâ€”but they too note that storage inefficiencies would not provide home owners with a sizeable monetary incentive to switch from grid energy to solar energy because the latter simply cannot be stored as effectively. Assuncao et al. (2016) show in their study that the repurposing of EV batteries can helpâ€”but that is a more of a stop-gap, off-the-grid solution than a practical, scalable one that businesses can use to advance solar energy development.
Evaluation and Assessment of the Sources
It is important to approach these sources from the standpoint of the realization that fossil fuel energy is finite and therefore alternative approaches to energy consumption should be developed if only because fossil fuel energy will be depleted at some point in the future. Looking ahead to future generations and attempting to address problems now before they grow and become particularly painful is a responsibility that the current generation should embrace. To that end, looking at solar energyâ€™s potential usage is essentialâ€”but so too is the realization that solar energy has its limitations.
In recognition of the findings presented in this review, it can best be argued that a hybrid solution to energy consumption may be the best approach to take. For example, Assuncao et al. (2016) show that repurposing EV batteries can help homes to address the storage efficiency problems associated with solar energy as depicted by Sinsermsuksakul et al. (2014) and Fares and Webber (2017) have highlighted. At the same time, it is helpful to consider how more research into alternative solar energy options such as solar fuel and solar thermal energy can be used to support separation from infrastructural reliance on fossil fuel energy (Lewis, 2016). In the end, the question is about finding a sustainable source of energy that is both efficient and accommodative to the needs of modern living in all its various forms. That means consideration must be given to the problematic structures of modern nationsâ€”from their economic and financial structures to their cultural structures and political and governmental structures, as Luthra et al. (2015) point out. In short, there is no easy solution to the energy usage problems that todayâ€™s generation must face so that the future generations are not deprived of a suitable energy source in the future. The strengths of the studies reviewed here are that there is the possibility of developing solar energy in multiple directions; the weaknesses of the studies show that there is still much work to be done in order for this expansion to be achieved effectively and meaningfully.
AssunÃ§Ã£o, A., Moura, P. S., & de Almeida, A. T. (2016). Technical and economic
assessment of the secondary use of repurposed electric vehicle batteries in the residential sector to support solar energy. Applied Energy, 181, 120-131.
Fares, R. L., & Webber, M. E. (2017). The impacts of storing solar energy in the home to
reduce reliance on the utility. Nature Energy, 2(2), 17001.
Lewis, N. S. (2016). Research opportunities to advance solar energy utilization.
Science, 351(6271), aad1920.
Luthra, S., Kumar, S., Garg, D., & Haleem, A. (2015). Barriers to renewable/sustainable
energy technologies adoption: Indian perspective. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 41, 762-776.
Sinsermsuksakul, P., Sun, L., Lee, S. W., Park, H. H., Kim, S. B., Yang, C., & Gordon,
R. G. (2014). Overcoming Efficiency Limitations of SnS?Based Solar Cells. Advanced Energy Materials, 4(15).
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