By Nairah Hashmi, Student Energy Fellow Ambassador
With the costs of solar technology development and solar panel installation dropping, will 2016 see a significant rise in the use of this alternative form of energy? The answer is yes.
Government policy, which has contributed to the increased use of renewable energy in the past few years, will continue to have a positive impact on solar energy in upcoming years. Just last month, Congress granted an extension to the 30 percent investment tax credit for the U.S. solar industry. The Solar Energy Industries Association predicts that solar generation will quadruple by 2020, supplying enough electricity to power 20 million homes and adding $132 billion to the American economy.
That’s a lot of solar.
Now that cost is becoming less of a barrier to the use of solar technology, the power of the sun may be employed more creatively in the future.
The other day, one of my classmates showed me an interesting example. Mahesh Rathi, a businessman in Mumbai, India, has developed a solution for street vendors who sell refrigerated goods, such as ice cream and cold water, in the heat of summer. His ‘Smart Kart’ refrigeration model relies on solar power to charge a battery that can last for over 24 hours.
Usually when I think of solar power, I associate it with stationary panels. However, an on-the-go solar model such as that envisioned by Rathi could easily become a practical and portable alternative. Two-way power calculators have been around a long time, where solar and battery-generated energy both contribute to power a calculator. But what if cellphones could function on two-way power? Or laptops?
One crucial advantage of solar is its usefulness as a power source in rural areas, where it costs less to install solar cells than to build a centralized grid and new distribution lines. I currently volunteer with a nonprofit organization, Sawayra Inc., which aims to empower people in poverty with low-cost solutions for basic necessities such as electricity and water. I stumbled across Sawayra, a relatively new organization, while looking for opportunities to gain experience in the field I am studying, engineering. It has been a mutually beneficial experience, as I am finally able to apply engineering principles to real life problems outside of the classroom.
One of Sawayra’s main projects involves providing homes in the rural village of Rashidabad, Pakistan, with their own water-generating units.
The design model my team is working on consists of an air dehumidifier that has been modified to run on power from a solar panel. The model should be able to produce enough water daily that a family can use it for drinking and cooking. Solar power is relatively easy to set up, and therefore makes this project more feasible. The project is still in its early stages, but my team hopes to produce a working prototype by the end of the year, with help from local engineers and students in Pakistan.
Although traditional hydrocarbon-based energy will likely remain the largest source of energy over the next few decades, there are several indicators of a rapid rise in the use of renewables including solar.
Renewed tax credits for solar and wind energy, rising global concerns about climate change and the reduced costs of installing and operating solar energy all point to a future where renewables pose a convenient solution in regions other than the most poverty-stricken ones targeted by nonprofits like Sawayra.
Nairah Hashmi is an undergraduate student pursuing a degree in chemical engineering with a minor in chemistry. She joined the energy ambassador program in August, 2015 and was appointed Student Energy Fellow Ambassador.