After decades of research, silicon-based solar cells are close to reaching their maximum theoretical efficiency, which is around 21%. Researchers have now discovered an economically viable alternative which coats the solar cells with a mineral called perovskite. This brought the efficiency up to more than 25%, and they’re expecting it to go up to 30% in the near future. Solar is finally going mainstream, in 2017 the world invested more in solar than coal, gas and nuclear combined. Out of the 132 billion that China invested in renewable energy in 2017, 86 billion of it went to solar. Tesla is making a solar roof that will actually be cheaper than replacing your roof with regular shingles. As this trend continues, there will be an abundance of electricity and paying for it will be like paying for the air you breathe. “By the year 2050, electricity generating industries will no longer be charging for electricity,” predicted Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Program. Free electricity is almost here.
It’s not all Sunshine and Roses
The question then becomes, what would our civilization look like with free energy? First, the entire fossil-fuel industry would face extinction, the smart ones will embrace renewables. Even the energy companies that adopt renewables will have a finite existence. The debate will shift from incentives for installing clean energy, to whether or not energy companies should receive subsidies to keep their operations up and running. A shift in power from these bloated multi-billion dollar companies to the individual is inevitable. But as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. Humans have a tendency to abuse anything that’s free (or nearly free), usually at the expense of our environment. Overfishing our oceans, the plague of plastic, the abuse of prescription drugs, all are examples of misuse and abuse. Free electricity will not fix all of our problems and it will undoubtedly create new ones. The easy answer for this is regulation, but it’s not necessarily the right one.