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The Next Decade of Solar PV Could Allow Renters to Become Powerhouses

Oct 02, 2018

Solar 7

Worldwide urbanization rates continue to rise, complementing increasing desires for clean distributed energy. While urban centers are generally more efficient in terms of energy use per capita than their sprawling suburban and rural counterparts, they create a disjuncture between individuals who wish to produce their own renewable energy and those who can actualize such a vision.

Solar PV as We Know It

Much of today’s solar PV market is made up by large panels that require racking systems for the permanent fixture on sun-receiving rooftops. To the chagrin of many renters in multifamily buildings, these systems require ample rooftop footprint. Further, renters often face restrictions on the installation of permanent fixtures, whether to generate power or otherwise streamline home energy management and efficiency. Fortunately, the next generation of solar PV might open doors for renters in multifamily buildings to become clean power generators.

Lightweight, Flexible, and Mobile PV

Laboratory PV developments and pilot projects, once at market scale, could one day offer low cost solutions. Solar is the only energy technology capable of producing electricity at less than $0.01/kWh. Guidehouse Insights finds that in developed markets, solar prices below $0.05/kWh are commonplace. The most significant factors in the higher costs of residential solar PV today are non-panel costs such as acquisition fees, installation, labor, and balance of systems fees.

Future solar PV could drastically reduce these costs, perhaps as lightweight plug-and-play systems. Among existing solar technologies are flexible cells that compress and unroll to be easily secured by temporary fixtures on the outside of buildings. Renters’ windows could also become power stations as some solar cells in development do not absorb visible light, but instead source power from infrared and ultraviolet rays. While the research on these technologies provides a glimpse into next generation solar, it’s imperative to keep in mind that the costs of these technologies remain high while overall efficiencies hover between 1% and 5%. These challenges remain significant, but they are not insurmountable.

Transparent Solar Cell

Transparent solar cell

(Source: extremetech.com)

The speed of solar PV deployment worldwide should increase as technological developments increase the watts generated per kilogram of solar cell weight. Part of this boost in installed capacity could theoretically come from renters, who might one day purchase solar technologies from big box stores and temporarily fix them to windows or the side of the housing unit without violating any lease agreements. While rental associations and regulatory barriers currently stand in the way of some of these developments, Guidehouse Insights notes that regulators have been working to reduce the cost of distributed energy assets since 2015.

A Decade of Integrated Research

Technology developers envision a future where renters can play an integral role in self-consumption focused solar PV. Further barriers exist in the siloed development of distributed energy technologies and accompanying regulations. To make the most of renters’ limited footprint, other technologies like energy storage and smart appliances must integrate with renters’ potential plug-and-play systems. Regulators will need to implement policies that challenge the status quo and allow this subset of the population to contribute to a clean and mobile energy system.

Vladimir Bulović of MIT finds that it takes approximately 10 years for simple technologies to move from conceptualization to market. More complex devices take longer, like the LED light bulb scaling over 20 years. While the next decade cannot go to waste, urban planners, tenants’ rights advocates, and utilities can work with scientists to formulate plans to maximize renter potential as distributed energy generators.