Investment in the Future?
Even if a solar system could be installed for a cost that would be paid back in only 3 years, how many
people would buy it? Most people would rather pay less now, rather than invest in something where
the payoff is years down the road. First-time home buyers are usually trying to buy as large
and as nice a house as possible for what they can afford in a monthly payment.
Barring a massive change in public sentiment, it will probably take government regulation to force
higher efficiency standards on the building industry, since the public is unlikely to voluntarily
make such an investment. There will, of course, always be some people who will opt to make these
What About Solar Collectors in Space?
Greater amounts of sunlight can be collected in outer space, where a satellite can be kept in the sun
continuously, and clouds are not a factor. But the roughly factor of three increase in energy intensity
is offset by inefficiencies in transmitting that energy to the ground. If it was transmitted as
microwave energy, much of the energy would be lost because the large antenna required would not be
able to concentrate the energy into a very small area on the ground to be received. Indeed, the
antenna required to receive the energy on the ground would be much larger than just putting solar
collectors on the ground. There would also be environmental concerns about transmitting huge
amounts of energy over such a large area, and the potential dangers of the space transmitter
missing the receiving antenna on the ground. Not the least of the problems is the very high cost of
launching anything into space.
A Brighter Future?
Despite the competitive disadvantage that solar energy technologies have right now, the availability
of "free" sunlight will remain a driving force behind the development of new ideas that can make
solar power more affordable in the future. As economies of scale are achieved in the manufacture
of solar collection devices (both thermal and electric), and as petroleum prices gradually rise,
solar energy will become more cost competitive.