What’s next in home energy technology?
What’s around the corner?
I wanted to give a couple of points on what’s ahead. People often ask me – where this technology headed and what sort of things are coming down the road? I think the shortest answer to that is that, whilst there’s lots of media coverage of new types of solar panels and new types of batteries, really there’s nothing dramatically significant that’s just around the corner. Most of that the new technologies you hear about are in the laboratory and are many, many years away before they would be in the market. My expectation is that the sorts of solar panels and batteries we use today are going to be the same sorts of solar panels and batteries we use quite a few years ahead. What’s changing is we’re getting better at mass producing those technologies..
So this picture is an example of a sheet of glass that’s so thin it’s actually flexible. And I visited some solar panel laboratories where they’re producing solar panels using today’s technology, standard silicon panels but the materials are much thinner than the materials in traditional solar panels. That basically means that the costs are coming down slowly over time and will continue to come down slowly over time. But there’s no step-change expected because the core underlying technology is the same.
This photo is a photo of an inverter – that’s the device that connects your solar panel to the grid. A typical household inverter might be the size of a few shoe boxes. Google last year held a competition for who could design the smallest possible solar inverter and the winner of that competition is in this photo. And you can see on the left-hand side of the image is their conventional inverter. The one they won the prize with is one on the right, and it’s about an eighth the size of the conventional inverter. Again the underlying technology is pretty similar to today’s inverters but it has far less materials in it and it can give you a sense of where the costs are headed. So once again the key messages is that a technology is not changing in a great step change anytime soon, it’s just a gradual, continual, slow decline in price.
Should you wait?
So the obvious question is – does that mean I should hold off buying a solar and battery system? And the answer to that is no, because fundamentally today solar and batteries are cheaper than retail electricity for many customers out there and so if you buy a system today then you’re saving money from day one. Even if prices come down over time, if you were to wait for those prices to come down, that is savings that you’re not realizing today. So our suggestion would be it’s absolutely worth getting a system today and as prices come down over time you can just make that system even bigger as prices continue to change. But we don’t see any massive step changing technology that’s just around the corner.