By TreeHouse Home Performance Consultant, Ayaz Husain
A question I get often from customers is, “If I buy solar panels now, won’t they be out of date in the next few years because of advancements in the technology?” They often point to the flat screen high definition television market as proof that if you wait, the technology will get better and cheaper.
It’s a valid concern, because there are indeed ongoing advancements in solar. The recent announcement by Tesla to bring their solar roof tiles to market is just one example of where things are headed in the solar market. But what I always point out to customers is how far we’ve already come. To stick with the flat-screen TV comparison, solar has been through the same growing pains in the past 10 years, so that now you can install very advanced solar technology for a very affordable price without much worry that you’re going to be overtaken by something “better” around the corner.
To understand why, take a look at the latest reporting from the Solar Energies Industry Association (SEIA). According to a 2017 industry report, residential solar panel installations in the U.S. have grown at an average of 68% per year since 2010. Not surprisingly, solar capacity has also grown in terms of its share of all the electricity generated in the U.S. In 2010, solar accounted for 4% of all new electric generating capacity. In 2016, that number went up to 40%. The bottom line for consumers is that solar today is much easier to find and much cheaper to buy. Since 2010 the cost to install solar has dropped by more than 70%, and getting set up with a solar array is as easy as calling or walking into a TreeHouse store. Solar has moved into the mainstream, and there’s no turning back.
So what’s next for solar? Based on our research, there are quite a few exciting technologies being developed around the world. Most of these address aesthetics rather than performance or efficiency, so there’s little risk of something new hitting the market that’s going to make your solar array obsolete or out of date. Still, as solar enthusiasts, we like to know what’s going on, and we thought you would too. Let’s take a look at what’s in the pipeline:
Photo Credit: Tesla
By now you’ve probably heard about the Tesla Solar Roof Tiles. You may have even forked over the $1,000 deposit. These are solar “panels” that look like traditional roofing shingles or clay tiles. They’re being manufactured by Tesla and Panasonic to address the concern that traditional solar panels are ugly, but they are also being marketed as highly durable. As a design forward company TreeHouse loves this idea, but from what we currently know, the cost of this product may make it inaccessible to some. We plan to keep an eye on this product because we’re huge fans, so check back here for details about how much power the panels will produce, how they’re installed, and what they’re actually going to cost.
There has been news in recent months about a “solar paint” being developed by RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. The paint uses moisture and sunlight to generate hydrogen, which is a clean fuel source. For now, hydrogen fuel isn’t a standard fuel type, so it’s going to take some time for something like this to reach critical mass, but to have a paint that produces energy would be a game changer.
Scientists at MIT are developing a fascinating device that would be able to capture light, convert it to heat, and then back to light with a wavelength that is perfect for solar panels If developed, this device could act as a light tuner that would make existing solar panels even more efficient. The technology is expected to be ready in 10-15 years.
One of our favorites is a technology that aims to allow clear glass to capture solar energy. Again at MIT (they’re busy), scientists want to capture non-visible light and convert it into electricity, all while allowing all the light we can see to come through undisturbed. The hope is that they can create a completely clear — and very thin — film that could be applied to any surface without changing the aesthetic.
To wrap all this up, the bottom line is that new solar technologies are coming and they’re exciting, but the ones mentioned here aren’t going to out-perform what you can get now, and they probably won’t be cheaper. Right now, you can come to TreeHouse and buy SunPower Panels that have a 25 year product and power warranty. You can finance the install cost at a very attractive rate (federal and local rebates are still available), and make your investment back in as little as 5-10 years, depending on the size of your house. In short, there’s no reason to wait. The bright future of solar is already here. To get started, sign up below for a free consultation with a TreeHouse Solar Consultant.