Rooftop solar panels could potentially produce enough energy for worldwide consumers. (Image Credit: Vivinti Solar / Unsplash)
Today’s rooftop solar panels are 79% cheaper compared to the ones in 2010. This led to home and business owners installing solar photovoltaics, allowing them to reduce their carbon footprint. At the same time, they rely less on electrical grids. One question remains, is it possible to develop sufficient rooftop solar panels to generate affordable, low-carbon energy for those who need it the most? Homeowners looking for ways to reduce their electricity bills aren’t the only ones in need of such a solution. Approximately 800 people around the world do not have proper access to electricity.
Recently, researchers published a paper in Nature Communications that assesses how many rooftop solar panels would generate sufficient energy for the world and where they would need to be placed. This is the first study providing a detailed map of global rooftop solar potential, assessing rooftop area and sunlight cover from cities to continents. The team discovered that only 50% of the world’s rooftops would need solar panels to distribute sufficient power, meeting the world’s annual needs.
First, the researchers developed a program that collected data from over 300 million buildings and analyzed 130 million km2 of land. It predicted how much energy the 0.2 million km2 of solar panel rooftops could generate. Afterward, they determined potential electricity generation, which depends on the rooftops’ location. For example, rooftops in northern Europe or Canada can vary by 40% in their generation potential throughout the year due to significant sunshine differences between the winter and summer. Meanwhile, rooftops located close to the equator vary in generation potential by approximately 1% throughout the year due to consistent sunlight.
Such large variations in monthly potential can significantly affect the solar-powered electricity’s reliability in that area. This means that places experiencing inconsistent sunlight need energy storage solutions.
On the other hand, Asia, Europe, and North America are potential hotspots for rooftop solar energy generation. Out of these three, Asia is the most affordable region for solar panel installation, where one KWh of electricity can be generated for 0.05p. Such a low price is due to cheap manufacturing costs and summer climates. However, the most expensive areas to install solar panels include Japan, the U.S., and the U.K. Europe’s costs are around 0.096p per Kwh, putting them in the middle.
Rooftop solar panels can be very useful in low population regions since they would be in urban centers. Panels can also replace or top up supply from unreliable local grids. Meanwhile, these can help reduce air pollution in cities where energy is generated from burning fossil fuels.
However, there are still some downsides. The required equipment to store solar power for when it’s needed is quite expensive. Also, solar panels can’t distribute sufficient energy for heavy manufacturing and metal processing, which require extremely large currents and special electricity delivery.
Regardless, rooftop solar can help solve energy poverty and deliver clean power to consumers around the world. If solar power costs continue decreasing, then rooftop panels could eventually decarbonize the electricity supply.
Al Gore funded $600 million of equity into Octopus Energy Group through his Generation Investment Management firm. This investment means that Octopus’ worth grows to approximately $4.6 billion. Octopus is widely known for its Kraken technology, which reroutes energy from renewable sources around a network more efficiently than any of its competitors. The startup now manages 17 million energy accounts in 12 countries. Octopus plans on using the funds to push further into the U.S. market.
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