I just returned from a holiday to North Carolina, barely missing the wrath of Hurricane Bill. My family and I stayed for a week on the Outer Banks—known for its sun and sand in the summer. The Outer Banks boasts good conditions for solar energy, direct sunlight with virtually no obstructions. The solar radiation, also known as insolation, is similar to that in Florida and parts of Texas. So where are all of the solar panels and solar water heating systems? There was barely a trace of any solar energy, except for a few solar lights scattered along the driveways of an occasional house. Despite the apparent good conditions, solar has certainly not made it to North Carolina.
The only exception to this virtual black-out on solar panels was at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills. Almost like a museum piece on display, the Memorial has a 1 kW array, which provides some of the electricity for the well air-conditioned halls of the museum.
Wilbur and Orville Wright launched the first controlled powered flight on this spot on December 17, 1903. The Memorial was a vivid reminder of how quickly technology can advance given the will and determination—and sometimes the exigencies of war. Within 12 years of the first flight, pilots were flying their planes at more than 100 miles an hour powered by engines of more than 250 horsepower. Within 40 years, jet aircraft that could fly up to 600 mph were flying. And within 63 years, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Technology is only limited by man’s imagination and determination.
What does this all mean for the solar industry? With renewable technologies in vogue, governments have now started to provide the support and financial resources to build the solar industry. We will not recognize the solar industry in 10 years from now. New technologies currently being incubated will lead the drive to go solar. We do not know whether crystalline technologies will continue to lead the solar industry, or whether thin film will gain a stronger marketshare, or whether a new technology will become dominant. But we do know that solar panels will become more efficient and may work even in the shade. You will not be surprised to see solar panels from Florida to Idaho, and you will see solar panels even on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.