SEATTLE -- Energy experts project solar power to dominate by 2040, thanks to cheap technology and trillions of dollars in solar research.
Some of that research is coming out of labs at the University of Washington Clean Energy Institute, where special microscopes allow engineers to see solar cells on an atomic level.
"A human hair is a hundred microns," explained Associate Director David Ginger. "So we're talking 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair."
David Ginger is associate director of the Clean Energy Institute at UW. Only a couple years old, the institute links a variety of engineering fields all focused on overcoming renewable energy's greatest challenges.
"To move away from fossil fuels as a civilization, we need renewable power sources that are on all the time," Ginger said.
Experts project that solar research will attract trillions of dollars in the next 25 years. Solar is already hot in popularity as cost continues to drop.
Kevin Charap is general manager of Northwest Wind and Solar. Their workload and revenue doubles every year, in large part because these panels cost about a third of what they did 20 years ago.
"It probably would've been a $50,000 system," he said while pointing at a new project. "These 3.2 kilowatt systems are going for $15,000."
It's all thanks to ideas shared in renewable energy conferences like the one hosted at the UW this week. It's drawn 400 participants from 20 different countries.
"We're hoping this conference will enable new connections so that people can network and work together in the future," said Materials Science and Engineering Professor Christine Luscombe.
It's a future their labs hope to propel.
"If I showed you what some of the next generation solar cells look like, it's completely flexible, it's bendable, it's very light weight," Ginger said.
Plus, it's cheaper, comes in different colors, and is destined for transparent windows. It's also attracting the next generation of engineers.
"I just graduated high school," Mathew Ellenberger said.
Ellenberger is one of dozens of students working on solar power's future. He admits, it's a lot of work.
"But it's really had a lot of payoff too. I feel like I'm actually doing something worthwhile," he said.