On 17 March 1958, the US sent Vanguard 1 into space.
Weighing only 1.5kg and measuring 16.5cm, the satellite looked pretty insignificant. In fact, it was so small that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev called it ‘the grapefruit satellite’.
Still, Vanguard 1 was a trailblazer.
The satellite made history by being the fourth one to go into orbit and…because it’s still up there. Vanguard 1 is the oldest ‘human-made’ satellite still orbiting the Earth.
But that’s not its only claim to fame.
Vanguard 1 was the first satellite EVER to use solar cell power.
The satellite held two radio transmitters to send signals back to Earth. One was powered by a battery, which operated for 21 days before running out of juice.
The other one, powered by six silicon solar cells, was able to broadcast for a whopping six years before switching off.
You see, in space, solar has a clear advantage.
There are no clouds and no nights. And in space, where the sunbeams are stronger, solar panels can be constantly exposed to the Sun.
In fact, it’s why recently Europe has been looking at developing a huge floating solar farm in space as a way to increase its energy independence.
In case you are wondering how it would all work, the space station would collect solar power, which would be sent towards the Earth through a beam. Antennas on Earth would then capture this energy 24/7 and change it into electricity to be used.
While it all sounds very whacky, it’s crazy to think that solar power has been available in space for more than 60 years.
At the time, solar power wasn’t used that much because it was very expensive.
Of course, that’s not so much the case anymore.
Efficiency has increased in the last 10 years, and costs have dropped massively for solar — and new energy technologies — in the same period.
In fact, here in Australia, the use of solar has been growing quickly.
Almost a third (32.3%) of households have solar power, a number that’s doubled in just the last four years.
Globally, renewable energy has been growing exponentially. And while there’s recently been a political push for it, much of the growth was happening before as costs fell.
And while the renewable energy transition is forging ahead…
We could hit some turbulence ahead
What a difference a year makes.
In 2020, oil prices collapsed during the pandemic and stayed low during much of 2021.
Then the restarting of economies after COVID and the war in Ukraine changed the game. Oil and gas prices spiked.
There’s been a scramble to secure gas and oil to heat homes and power industries. Energy security is at the front and centre, along with geopolitical struggles.
Supply chain disruptions and high energy costs have brought in inflation, and central banks have been hiking rates aggressively to bring down inflation. It’s all hitting consumers’ pockets.
What’s interesting is that despite all the fears for Europe this winter, both oil and gas prices have been coming down recently.
Oil prices have been decreasing as fears of a recession hit demand and the release of oil reserves by the US and other countries.
Europe has been able to fill up its gas storage tanks before the Nord Stream attacks, there’s been mild weather, and the continent has upped its LNG imports. In fact, European electricity prices are down 60–70% from their peak in August.
The question is if this will last.
In Europe, there are already concerns about energy supply for next year, with the Nord Stream pipelines out of commission to fill up their gas tanks and the rush to build more LNG capabilities.
The truth is that energy transitions can be long affairs, and the world is still very heavily dependent on fossil fuels for energy.
In fact, my colleague Greg Canavan expects we could have a big spike in energy prices in store. He’s just released a detailed report on the entire energy industry and a way to navigate these unpredictable times.
Click here to access it.
We could see some higher energy prices in the short–medium term. Over the long term, the direction of travel is clear, and there’s a lot to like about renewables.
Economically, they make sense…even more so after the war in Ukraine.
Fossil fuel prices spiking is more of an incentive to deploy renewables along with energy security.
And, unlike fossil fuels — which get more expensive the more we have to dig — renewables get cheaper the more they are used.
RMI expects that if we continue with the same growth rates, then by 2030, we could see US$15 per MWh solar, US$25 per MWh wind, and US$1 per kg in green hydrogen.
Then there is a lot of money flowing in to build renewable infrastructure.
And, of course, the biggest advantage of it all, the one that attracted me to renewable energy in the first place…
Renewables are attractive to countries looking for energy security because they are both cheap and can be produced locally.
This is also a big advantage for households.
Energy is crucial to everything. It’s in everything we do.
And renewables disrupt the old, centralised energy system, allowing households to produce their own energy and increase their energy independence.
All the best,
For Money Morning
Selva is also the Editor of New Energy Investor, a newsletter that looks for opportunities in the energy transition. For information on how to subscribe, click here.