Working in the solar PV industry, you will hear a lot of concerns of solar technology becoming obsolete. It’s understandable because we live in a world where technology of computers and cell phones are changing every few months that once you purchase the new “it” product, there’s already a line waiting for the next new product.
However, what most people don’t understand is that solar technology has not changed much in the past 40 years. I believe Ed Begley Jr. (the green guru) explains it best in his book, Ed Begley, Jr.’s Guide to Sustainable Living.
He explains that solar technology has made very little changes since the space program in the 1950s when the photovoltaic technology was first put to major use. In the 1970s, solar technology was put to use in earth-based systems and thought about in a price-to-performance standpoint.
If people have a concern with the technology going obsolete or systems becoming much smaller and driving prices dramatically down in the near future, Ed Begley brings up the crucial point that
“The actual panel is a relatively small part of the equation. Most of the cost and installation of solar is labor, cable, brackets, and fuses. There’s so much that is not about the panels that’s involved in the process, so whatever technological advances might or might not occur at this point are not worth waiting for.”
He even goes on further to say that the solar operating in the satellites from the 1960s is virtually identical to his own solar panels on his roof, which goes to show you that solar panels are durable and are going to be functional for a really long time. If you’re worried about prices falling in the near future, you should know that many existing state solar rebates and incentives decrease over time because they foresee the inevitable drop in cost. So prices for solar may be higher now, but rebates are also the most generous.
Though solar technology hasn’t changed dramatically in the past 40 years, it does not mean new products of the solar industry aren’t being made. Thin film solar, bifacial panels, solar tiles, even solar spray. Technological research is being done to improve efficiency and size; however this research is just that, still in research. It will probably take another 10 to 15 years to get these readily distributed into the mass market. Also, when these new technologies first hit the market, they are going to be incredibly expensive, which brings up Ed’s point: unless you’re willing to wait that long, it’s not worth waiting for.
Solar panels degrade very little over time, they are known to be functional for at least 20 years. And because solar technology does not change all that quickly, if new technologies do come in, it should be fairly easy to “upgrade” your system to fit your electrical needs.
If you are curious as to what technological research is being done on photovoltaics, here are some websites to look into:
www.treehugger.com, www.scientificamerican.com, www.grist.org