Solar power is undergoing what futurists and tech speculators like to call the Law of Accelerated Returns—a fancy way of explaining why an iPhone costs less and works better six months after a new release. The longer a new technology is available, the cheaper and more efficient it gets, which ultimately leads to a rising in adoption numbers. It’s the same thing that happened with microchips and cloud computing. And just as the rise of the cloud helped grow businesses, solar power will create new opportunities for existing industries and may buoy some burgeoning fields as well, building a super-powered economy around it. Here’s a couple of predictions for how solar may help other industries.
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Solar installation numbers will give electricians something to smile about
Back in the 1970s, when the energy crisis forced lawmakers to start seriously considering our nation’s energy future, many states started slowly enacting renewable portfolio standards—rules setting forth goals for moving to clean energy sources. And a lot of the time, those portfolios have come with regulations for who can install solar panels—namely electricians. That opens up a huge window of opportunity for practicing electricians.
In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that installers who have worked as electricians can make significantly more than those who don’t—which makes PV installation a nice tool for an electrician to have in their arsenal, particularly in areas with high numbers of solar households.
Corporate energy purchasing will take its cue from Google
It’s no secret that solar energy isn’t exactly the cheapest technology—some experts say that solar would need to come down to $0.25 per watt from today’s $3.00 to become a truly competitive alternative to nonrenewable grid power. That cost disparity generates service opportunities, since homeowners struggle to navigate labyrinths of incentives and initiatives, and search for opportunities to purchase equipment without a massive down payment. That’s why you see alternative investment strategies popping up, like those offered by Elon Musk’s SolarCity, where equipment providers lease systems, often for zero dollars down, in exchange for government and utility incentives.
But the public interest in green technology is also brokering the rise of corporate power purchasing agreements, or PPAs, particularly in the IT sector. Powerful technology companies like HP and Google set the tone for such agreements, often purchasing energy directly from generation sites rather than through public utilities. And that’s turning heads among executives in smaller companies as well. A survey of 100 senior corporate executives found that 90 percent believed more companies would be entering into PPAs in the next year. That trend should bring new markets to existing lenders, utilities, and private solar generation sites alike.
Your next solar energy system may be right in your home’s windows.
Like most technologies just starting to gain traction, there are lots of predictions for solar power’s future. Among the flurry of theories for where innovation will take us is flexible solar film—solar cells fashioned into a pliable translucent material that can be shaped around objects, like windows.
Meanwhile, researchers at the Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics at Los Alamos National Laboratory have been testing another solar product that harvests electricity from quantum dots in light wavelengths. While still in testing phase, the concept of adapting solar to fit windows makes a lot of sense, and, if realized, you can easily see how this technology might expand and grow window manufacturing as brands rush to incorporate solar into their products. That’s certainly what happened in the 2000s when many local and federal energy-efficiency initiatives came on board, propelling the manufacturing of new low-emissivity windows. If history is any predictor, then you can expect similar changes in window manufacturing to adopt new solar technology as well.
An infrastructure overhaul holds promise for smart grid technology companies
In many places, our energy grid is so badly outdated that analysts estimate that we’re just a few steps in front of a collapse at any moment. A possible shift to renewable energy has highlighted those problems—sunlight isn’t as predictable as coal or nuclear power, and the energy generated from solar installations is difficult to store, especially at the levels that utilities require.
To accommodate solar power, grid technology needs a complete overhaul, making it able to respond almost instantaneously to the kind of shifts in energy production that can happen with a passing cloud in a solar installation. That means rewriting grid technology and software—an opportunity in disguise for companies that develop and deploy smart energy solutions. These technologies include everything from smart meters and digital sensors to software that analyzes loads and systems that can automate demand response—and they’re growing a whole industry up around them. A survey of Washington and Oregon state found that there were 225 “smart energy” companies in the area, and predicted that the field might employ over 7,000 people by 2025.
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Solar power already employs the most people per kilowatt generated than any other energy source, and that job-creating power will translate across many other industries as well. So your next job could be keeping the lights on at home—literally!