by Maria Ramos
For years, solar panel technology has been weighed down - quite literally - by its own ambitions. Standard solar PV panels are too heavy and cumbersome for everyday people to hang on their own, requiring expensive, specialized mounting supports and professional installation in addition to the cost of the panels themselves,
Solar start-up Sunflare, based in Los Angeles, wants to liberate the weight of solar power and make it easier for everyone to take advantage of the sun’s limitless energy supply. The solar panels produced by this company are extremely lightweight and have more flexibility than traditional solar panels. In fact, according to Solarflare, they can be hung with "little more than a 3M tab on the side of buildings."
Sunflare solar panels are lightweight in part because they are made entirely without glass. Instead, they are composed of a thin film that absorbs as much, or more, light than traditional, heavier solar panels. The copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) solar panels are "65 percent lighter and able to produce 10 percent more energy throughout the day thanks in part to better efficiency in low light at dusk and dawn."
As solar panels become even more lightweight and inexpensive, we can look towards a future in which fossil fuel power is replaced by solar and other renewable energy sources. But such a major shift in the economy won't come without a struggle. Recent figures have shown that solar is rising - electrical output from solar energy sources has grown 400 percent in the four years between 2010-2014 - yet it still amounts to less than two percent of the total energy consumed in the country.
Looking on the bright side, almost all of this solar power was generated by homes and businesses outfitted with solar panels. And according to Atco Electric, as of late 2015 the solar industry now employs 209,859 solar workers, indicating a growth rate of 20.2% since the same time last year. Once large-scale utility plants are built to harness power from the sun, we can expect to see much more significant growth in solar electricity output. If we can develop the technology, there is absolutely no need to destroy our planet and raise global temperatures by continuing to rely upon carbon-based fuels.
Now that solar panels are entering a new age of both affordability and “adaptability”, the hurdle that needs to be overcome is the 'business as usual' mentality of corporations and the governments that support them. With new, lightweight solar panels like the ones created by Sunflare, the possibilities are endless. There are many large surfaces in Los Angeles and other cities that could act as power generators with the addition of solar panels. Building codes could even be revised to require that all new roofs be covered with solar film. The technology is here, and it's time to get on board with the transition to a clean energy economy.
It's not surprising that Sunflare and other startups are discovering ways to reduce the cost and improve the efficacy of solar energy collecting devices. The biggest challenge won’t be inadequate technology when it comes to halting global warming, here the only thing that can hold us back is ourselves.