When the first PV cell was developed in 1954, scientists believed that they were on the cusp of a new and cleaner way of producing electricity. In a sense, they were right. The sun, especially in certain climates, is the perfect instrument with which to create electricity. It is already present and as long as electricity is needed, the sun will be there.
The “Storage” Problem of Solar Energy
The problem with solar energy, however, is as difficult to solve as its potential is to ignore. While the sun provides enough energy throughout the day to power almost anything we could need, the other half of the day the sun does not produce anything. As soon as it gets dark, the sun no longer produces energy that can be turned into electricity.
Right now, if you were to wire your house off of the electrical grid and solely on solar panels, your house would be electricity free as soon as the sun went down. No matter how strong or advanced your solar panels are, when the sun is not present, then neither is the energy needed to produce an electrical current.
Is There a Solution?
The answer is both yes and no. The solution is to develop ways to not only produce electricity from the sun, but also to store that energy in a manner that allows it to be used when the sun is not present.
There is a solution because deep cell batteries, like those that are used in rechargeable golf carts, can effectively store solar energy. The problem is that the average person uses a lot more electricity than a battery can store. In fact, to power even a small room air conditioner over night, you will need a series of at least 4 fully charged T-105 batteries. This does not take into account anything else that may be used on battery power such as a refrigerator compressor, a microwave, a coffee pot, or even ceiling fan.
Battery technology has come a long way over the past 60 years, but we are still far away from a solution to the problem of storage. Currently, to go completely off grid, even in a one family home, the amount of money you would need far exceeds the amount you currently pay an electric company. On top of the storage problem is the problem of rainy days, weeks, or months. In these cases you will need a separate and expensive gas or diesel generator that not only raises the cost but lowers the green impact that a solar system could have.
Solar power is still probably the wave of the future, but that future is still not very near. Until an effective method of storing solar power is developed, it is just not cost effective to make the move to an off-grid, solar powered home.