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What if you could be part of a conversation of experts in this field?
Well, I think solar cells are certainly a solution the world needs to get it going. I mean, I think at the moment, CO2 production, the way the world’s going with climate change, we have to make a change the way we’re generating electricity. What do you think? Obviously, that’s got to be part of the solution, but then, the sun doesn’t shine 24 hours a day. It doesn’t shine all year round. So obviously, there’s more to it than just solar cells. Yes, so how do you get around that, I mean? Yes. There’s a few ways to do that. In the short term, we’ve got battery technology, which is looking quite promising.
A lot of people are putting them into their homes these days, and they seem to be doing the job. But I mean that’s still talking about small scale. So if we want to completely revolutionise the way that the world uses energy, we need to look at other approaches as well. So one of the touted scenarios is to cover the world completely with solar cells. Is that kind of realistic? Or should we just be localising them in areas and then storing the energy or shipping it out, like we do currently with coal-fired power stations? I think there is definitely an argument for doing that.
But the question is, how do we get that energy from places where there is a lot of sunlight? So I mean, if you look at Australia as an example, there’s a lot of sun in the Northwest corner, but it’s a long, long way to get from there to where the population is. So how do we do it? Yeah. And Tela, you’re the expert on the plastic solar cells. Do you think that they’re ever going to be cheap enough to cover the world with them or recyclable enough? I think they’re certainly going to be cheap enough, but there are other issues, which you already talked about. I mean, what is the problem with solar cells, right?
So first, intermittency, so with storage, you can probably solve that. The second is that how do you connect to networks? So they deliver DC power, so they’re great for localised energy. But it’s a lot harder to distribute it and connect it to a network. There’s heaps of issues with that. It’s renewable in its purest sense. But making solar cells, especially certain technologies, is toxic. So where are you going to manufacture them? And how are you going to recycle them? That’s another issue. So I guess these are the main ones that you mentioned. And I think the solutions to these are not obvious.
Well, I think, you said the intermittency can be solved with storage, but then also, a lot of the grid connection, storage will definitely play a big role in that.
Similar to the way that South Australia is set up with the Tesla battery. OK. I mean, the big problem– I don’t know. There is a mismatch between transmitting power using AC technology, high voltage and then solar cell delivering to DC. You’re talking about the inverter. Yeah, inverter. And you lose a lot. And if you think about system costs, even your solar panel is cheap. I think the cost of an installation today is mostly about connecting to the network and the financial system, et cetera. So it doesn’t matter now at some point how a cheap solar cells going to get or the solar panel is.
If the back end connections and the management of the system remains expensive, then you’re not really changing anything. Obviously. Doesn’t that mean we should be locally just connecting to our own source, batteries, solar cells, rather than connecting to the grid? But in terms of industrial applications, in having that bigger grid connected system, I mean, that’s an opportunity for solar. If you go back to the original problem, terawatt challenge, it’s probably not going to be one solution, but you need all of them. And it’s more of deciding on a portfolio of sources and distributions that you can use in individual situation. So it’s just the part as much as controlling systems as much as using technologies.

Only Part of the Solution!

Join our experts, Professor David Officer, Associate Professor Attila Mozer and Dr Andrew Nattestad as they discuss the role solar can play in the Terawatt challenge.

To reiterate, the aim of the Terawatt challenge is to provide enough electricity to meet the needs of a growing population.

We’ve discussed some of the pros and cons of using solar to meet the Terawatt challenge. What happens at night time? Or on cloudy days? Should we connect to the grid or maintain smaller household power supplies? Do we build an international grid of solar panels for 24/7 access to the sun?

There are obviously many questions that don’t have definitive answers at this stage. Who knows what the future of solar generation will look like? What role do batteries play in how effective solar will be at meeting the Terawatt challenge?

Your Turn

  • What solar generation projects or initiatives are happening in your area?

  • How can you get involved with these initiatives?

Share your findings in the comment section.

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