The 4 things needed to reach Biden’s ambitious 2050 solar goal – TechCrunch

The Department of Energy has released a report about the future of solar energy. It shows a bright picture of the next three decades. At the end of that time, nearly half of the country's energy will come from the sun. For that to happen, there must be big pushes along four main lines: improved photovoltaics and more energy storage; lower soft costs; and the hiring of about a million people.
These are the recommendations of the report to ensure that each sector meets the ambitious goals.

Better photovoltaics

To achieve the DOE's desired installation volumes, the solar cells will have to keep improving in terms of efficiency and cost. Referring to 2020, 15 gigawatts of solar was installed. However, we will need to double this installation rate by 2025 and then double it by 2030.

Photovoltaics will not improve in efficiency. This means that these already ambitious numbers must be increased to compensate. If they remain at current prices, it will be impossible to reach those volumes.

It is a good thing that efficiency is increasing and costs are already falling. It's not as if this happens by accident. Globally, companies and researchers have spent millions of dollars on new manufacturing processes and new materials. These improvements are incremental but add up over time. These basic researches and advances in the science and methods of solar energy must continue at the same pace as they have for the past two decades.

According to the DOE, research on making exotic PVs more affordable or stacking cells in order to reduce bandgap losses may be important. Semi-transparent or flexible substrates, such as tile- or slate-like ones, or semi-transparent installation that allows light to pass through to crops and interiors of buildings may also be considered. The plan will allow for an average cost reduction of $1.30/watt to $0.70 per watt by 2030.

The report includes a separate heading on solar concentrators. Many companies are exploring these devices to replace their industrial processes. They will not be used to support large-scale grid operations, but they will replace many fossil fuel-based processes.

Energy storage: More

One of the consequences of getting energy from the sun is the need to rely on stored energy at night. Initially, this was either nuclear or coal. But it has become more common for storage systems to store excess power that was generated during the day. Cities can transition away from fossil-based energy sources by covering more peak usage with renewable energy.

Although we think of energy storage as batteries, which are certainly present, the energy that must be stored is too large to be stored in lithium-ion batteries. Instead, excess energy can be used to power energy-hungry renewable fuels, such as hydrogen fuel cells. This fuel can be used to produce power when the sun isn't shining.

This is just the summary. According to the report, there are various stages in development for thermal, chemical, and mechanical storage technology, such as pumped thermal storage and liquid air energy storage.

There will be many technologies available to meet the different levels of energy redundancy required for the country. These technologies will make solar and other renewable energy sources more reliable for meeting greater demand.

Lower soft costs

If we are to double or triple the rate of solar cells deployment, not only must the cost of the cells be reduced, but also the entire process of assessing, accounting, labor and profit to the companies doing the actual work.

Many startups have already set their sights on lowering non-hardware expenses. Aurora Solar was one of them. They saw the potential and began making it easy to plan, visualize and sell solar panels entirely online.

The total cost of a solar roofing system could be as much as twice that of the hardware. This is due to many factors, including financing, regulations, markets, and each one has its own intricacies that are beyond the scope this article. It is enough to say that if one percent of the cost of a solar system can be slashed by streamlining any cost or time involved, it will make a significant difference in the overall cost. This will require the collective efforts of many commercial and organizational minds, as well as the efforts of many scientists to improve PVs.

A million jobs

Last, but not least, someone must actually do the work. This means that the nation's solar industry will require a lot more labor than the estimated quarter million workers.

This sector will have a wide range of jobs, including skilled workers with experience in construction and energy professionals who have managed grids. Public-private partnerships wizards who link commerce to government incentives are also available. There will be many new companies and sub-industries that create the additional half a million to one million jobs. However, the overall breakdown has been around 65 percent in installation and project development, 25 per cent sales and manufacturing, and the remainder in miscellaneous positions.

However, it is important to note that energy companies currently struggling to adapt to the aging infrastructure of oil and coal will have to make sure they are supporting the thousands of people they employ. The renewable energy sector offers a great transition space. The report states that certain fossil fuel companies could face financial difficulties during the transition. This is a significant understatement. Funding transition programs that include training, relocation, or guarantees of financial benefits such as pensions is strongly recommended by the authors.

According to the report, the majority of the people working in the solar industry are white men. If the millions of jobs are to be equitable, it's worth doing some research.

The complete study can be viewed here.