Anyone who has been following the financial news recently, especially those business pages covering the energy markets, knows that the investment picture is becoming increasingly unsettled. The information written here and at other similar pages online indicates how volatile market conditions have gotten in recent years. This is because of two factors: environmental and market factors driving the development of new energy production technology, and dwindling demand and gluts in fossil fuel supply.
Consider the example of coal. At one time, Old King Coal was the dominant fuel source for industry and electricity production. Coal was used for everything and was cheap to get out of the ground in countries where supply, and demand, was plentiful. Coal, however, is the dirtiest fuel ever burned; generating smog, ash and slag, as well as dirty runoff from mining operations. The appearance of abundant, cheap natural gas has undermined coal’s market position, not only because of low prices but also due to the fact that it is a much cleaner burning fuel for power production. As a result of both these factors, the price of coal has crashed and will not be coming back up. Not ever.
Beyond the problems with coal, all fossil fuels are recognized as pollutants contributing to present-day climatic change problems now beginning to make a major impact. As a result, industrialized countries are attempting to make a switchover to renewable power to replace all carbon-based fuels. Solar power has experienced the biggest growth in deployment and development. The costs for solar power systems are declining to the level of grid-parity with coal and soon may reach that of natural gas.
However, one remaining difficulty faced by the development of solar power is in terms of efficiency in power production. Presently, the best solar PV systems can manage to generate around 15% useable power. This is for panels using ruthenium, a comparatively expensive metal, as the mechanism to capture solar radiation for conversion. However, new research has uncovered a means to use iron and other cheap materials to not only perform the work of solar radiation capture, but at twice the level of efficiency of present-day panel systems. Furthermore, additional developments are allowing not only the construction of new technology PV systems but retrofitting of existing panels as well. These developments will only make solar power a game-changing competitor in the energy market and a wise bet for investors for many years to come.