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How the Solar Market Is Poised to Change in 2021

image credit: Asia Chang
Shannon Flynn's picture
Freelance Writer ReHack.com

Shannon Flynn has more than four years of experience in the technology industry, and two years writing about IT topics. She currently manages content at ReHack.com and writes about green...

  • Member since 2020
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  • Jan 18, 2021
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While 2020 was a challenging year for many people and even entire industries, there were some positives. Daily CO2 emissions fell roughly 17% below the 2019 average, resulting in the largest annual decline since World War II. Heading into 2021, the future for renewable energy looks bright.

For all of its downsides, 2020 seems like it could serve as a turning point in sustainable energy. Solar power had a particularly impressive year, and several trends in 2021 could push it further. Lingering effects from 2020 combined with oncoming changes may take the photovoltaics market to new heights.

If last year has proved anything, it’s that nothing is ever certain. Unexpected circumstances could shift the future of solar power. But for now, there are several promising developments on the horizon.

Shifting Social and Political Landscape

It’s nearly impossible to discuss changes between 2020 and 2021 without mentioning the presidency. Under Joe Biden, who pledged to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, the solar market will likely benefit from more government support. The president-elect has also mentioned a $2 trillion plan to transition away from fossil fuels.

As Marcel Alers, Head of Energy at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) points out, pledges are only the first step. In a statement regarding Biden’s commitment, he said, “these pledges now need to be translated into action.” Whether or not these promises will lead to actual change in the solar market is still uncertain, but they’re a promising sign.

America’s political climate isn’t the only cultural factor that could impact solar power in 2021. As the world went into lockdown, people witnessed an almost immediate environmental improvement. The public now has tangible, first-hand evidence that positive environmental change is possible, which could drive support for renewable energy.

Economic Challenges and Benefits

As far as finances go, the solar market faces both positive and negative circumstances. Some of the largest solar power companies are still dealing with COVID-related losses and may take time to recover. Users and businesses who are likewise struggling may shy away from any further investments in photovoltaics, too.

Still, the past year has paved the way for some economic relief in the renewable energy sector. The PPP Flexibility Act made PPP loans more accessible and flexible, helping small solar companies stay afloat. These loans can help account for the high cost of doing business in photovoltaics or fund further research.

Other government stimulus programs extended solar energy investment tax credits. David Shaffer, executive director of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association, calls these the most important financial incentive for solar projects. If photovoltaics companies and investors take advantage of these programs, the solar industry could skyrocket in 2021.

Opportunities in COVID-19 Recovery

As the world recovers from COVID-19, it presents some unique opportunities for the solar market. Most notably, the two approved vaccines in the U.S. both require extreme cold storage and shipping solutions. Maintaining these low temperatures takes a considerable amount of energy, which photovoltaics could provide.

The trucks and ships carrying vaccine shipments can’t exactly plug into the local power grid. Since solar energy is, by nature, off-grid, it can power the cold storage units on these vehicles directly. As the U.S. ramps up its vaccine rollout, solar companies could partner with medical organizations to power the cold chain.

The expanding solar market could also provide a needed source of employment for the recession-stricken nation. Renewable energy employs 11.5 million people worldwide, and solar power accounts for 33% of that, making it the largest employer of any renewable sector. More investment in the industry would mean more jobs.

The nation’s electricity needs will most likely rise as the pandemic fades. Companies will be looking for more energy projects, and solar could provide them. Since fossil fuels proved volatile amid the pandemic, renewables may be more enticing to businesses trying to recover from 2020 losses.

2021 Could Give Solar a Needed Push

The solar industry still faces an uncertain future, but many signs point to it being positive. If photovoltaic companies capitalize on economic incentives, and governments follow through on environmental promises, solar power could see its strongest year yet.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 18, 2021

Maintaining these low temperatures takes a considerable amount of energy, which photovoltaics could provide.

Is this actually something tailored to solar, or just a reason that power demand may be higher than previously forecast for the coming year(s)?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 19, 2021

"Daily CO2 emissions fell roughly 17% below the 2019 average...Heading into 2021, the future for renewable energy looks bright...The public now has tangible, first-hand evidence that positive environmental change is possible, which could drive support for renewable energy."

The drop in CO2 emissions in 2020 was the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It had nothing to do with renewable energy.

"Users and businesses who are likewise struggling may shy away from any further investments in photovoltaics, too...The PPP Flexibility Act made PPP loans more accessible...If photovoltaics companies and investors take advantage of these programs, the solar industry could skyrocket in 2021...Renewable energy employs 11.5 million people worldwide..."

Seems we should be concentrating less on how much money we can make from renewables, than how much value we're getting for our money. After all, electricity consumers are paying the bill.

Solar has yet to generate more than 3% of U.S. electricity, despite tens of $billions in subsidies, and half a century of research/development. Pursuing policy that saddles electricity ratepayers with debt, for very little progress to show in return, is wasteful - and with climate change, we have less time than money to waste.

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