• Austin Brentley

Current Trends in Solar Energy: 2021 and Beyond

Updated: Sep 17

We’re only halfway through 2021, and it’s already been a banner year for the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry across the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. Below are some of the biggest solar energy trends of the year, plus our predictions on what the rest of 2021 holds.

Solar Prices Continue To Decline

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), residential solar PV prices have fallen more than 64% since 2010. These cost drops make the idea of adding solar to a home far more appealing to a larger section of the population.

Further fueling this demand is a range of financing vehicles like power purchase agreements, leases and loans – all of which help make the technology more affordable than it already is. The same is true of clean energy incentives like net metering, rebates and tax credits.

The Latest Trends In Solar Technology

Because solar has been around for a while now, it increasingly qualifies as a mature technology. Fortunately, however, innovations and efficiency gains continue to make the technology even more attractive, with PV cells lasting longer, batteries becoming cheaper and electric vehicles (powered by solar) going mainstream.

Below are some current trends in solar energy that are creating a lot of buzz.

1. PV Panels

In addition to substantial price drops, solar module efficiency has nearly doubled from 13% to 20% over the past 2 decades. Better still, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently developed prototype PV modules that reached 47% efficiency in the lab (and an impressive 40% under field conditions).

These efficiency gains help make the technology more affordable indirectly. Equally important, they allow for a much wider range of design options – including building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) – which we’ll discuss later.

2. More Inverters And Microinverters

Although all PV installations need inverters to convert solar DC electricity into AC power, there is an industrywide push to outfit newer systems with microinverters due to the technology’s:

  • Ease of installation

  • Design flexibility

  • Module-level monitoring

  • Anti-islanding capabilities

  • Maximum power point tracking

Even with supply chain disruptions stemming from COVID-19, the microinverter market is expected to grow by nearly 20% from 2021 to 2026, highlighting how attractive the technology is becoming among homeowners and installers alike. In fact, microinverters are quickly replacing string inverters as the default standard for most residential solar installations.

3. Solar Batteries And Storage

Adding on-site solar battery storage has historically been very expensive – increasing the total price of a standard PV installation by as much as 50% or more. Because most residential systems are grid-connected with reliable access to nighttime power, homeowners have often struggled to justify the added cost of energy storage.

However, the solar battery industry has experienced many of the same price drops and efficiency gains witnessed in the module market – helping to make on-site energy storage more affordable to a wider swath of solar customers. And attuned to this growing demand, battery manufacturers are increasingly shipping their technology with more aesthetically pleasing designs to make integrating storage solutions even more attractive to homeowners.

Although the average solar battery can only store enough backup electricity to keep essential appliances on, many PV-enabled homes now feature two or more sources of backup power. To understand why the shift is happening, check out the next section.

4. Solar Cars And Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles (EVs) are technically source-agnostic, which allows users to charge their cars using any power source – including utility electricity generated from fossil fuels. When paired with PV panels, however, it’s possible to power your commutes with 100% sunshine. This combination also provides users with an alternate source of backup power – provided their EV charging stations come with bidirectional capabilities.

In fact, an estimated 30% – 40% of electric vehicle drivers around the globe also have rooftop solar installed on their own homes. As fuel economy standards become stricter and sustainable energy technologies become more affordable, you can expect these percentages to continue going up.

5. Solar Roofs And Roads

As of 2021, the majority of new PV installations are still rooftop- or ground-mounted systems. And although viewed as unsightly by some, they deliver measurable savings and emissions reductions while increasing property values.

But there is a growing push to integrate solar technology more directly into new buildings and homes. This move is made possible by a new breed of solar modules that double both as power-generation technologies and construction materials.

The rise of solar roof shingles is one example of BIPV integration within the residential market. But some pioneers are taking the concept even further by adding PV modules to highways. A pilot project in Georgia already features an 18-mile stretch of solar-enabled road. But in a country with more than 4 million miles of roads, the potential applications for this technology are huge.

Commercial Applications

The above solar energy trends aren’t limited to the residential market. Many businesses are also embracing the technology in new and unexpected ways. For example, businesses have often been reluctant about adding EV-charging stations to their parking lots. In addition to the upfront cost involved, EV charging also represents an ongoing cost for these businesses since they have to pay for grid electricity.

However, the rise of solar carports has altered the landscape, allowing businesses to offer their customers:

  • Free energy to top up their EVs

  • Shade to protect their parked cars

  • Another reason to walk through the door

Government Incentives And Tax Credits

Although the announcement technically came out in late 2020, the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) has been extended for another 2 years – allowing residential and commercial customers to effectively decrease the cost of new PV systems by 26% through the end of 2022. Thereafter, the tax credit drops down to 22% through the end of 2023. And the following year, the ITC drops again to 10% for commercial users and disappears entirely for residential customers.

In addition to incentives, many states and municipalities will likely follow California’s example by mandating solar PV installations for new residential and commercial properties.

The Rest Of 2021 Looks Bright

Despite lockdown restrictions and global supply chain disruptions, 2021 has been one of the most active years for solar to date, with exciting developments across nearly every aspect of the industry. This brief overview on the latest trends in solar technology hasn’t even touched on the gains being made in online permitting, drone imaging, artificial intelligence, and many other emerging digital tools that continue to push solar power more into the mainstream.

To learn how our own solar design and engineering software is helping to streamline the installation process and make PV technology more accessible to end users, schedule a consultation with us today.