We’ve had some bad news this year, like wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, floods, exploding oil trains, imploding governments, and an international consensus of climate scientists affirming that the end is probably nigh: Any enviro can see these are dark times for the climate. But if you squint hard enough through the gloom, a literal and figurative ray of sunshine emerges! Because you know what, guys, solar energy may just save us all. For realz.

This is a guarded, cautiously optimistic thumps up, mind you.
Join Grist for an exploration of recent climate wins. This is a guarded, cautiously optimistic thumbs up, mind you.

It’s kind of a no-brainer — enough free, clean, undisputed energy falls on the earth’s surface in a little over an hour to power all of humanity for a year — but the solar story so far has had its share of struggles, goofs, and embarrassment. (Looking at you, Solyndra.) This should not be a total shock: Unlike photosynthesizing plants, humans have not spent billions of years evolving ways to harvest and store all that tasty energy, and so developing the tools to do so has been pretty complicated and expensive — so far.

And yet, technically and financially speaking, solar news of late is looking pretty solid across the board. Here are some stories of solar wins to tell your children when you tuck them in at night, to give them hope for the climatopocalyptic future:

solar victory cadiz spain

1. Solar cells are becoming more and more efficient. New materials and methods are continually producing solar cells that perform better than their early crystalline silicon antecedents; meanwhile, cheaper thin-film cells are also improving. And upgrades are not limited to the lab: Your wallet may see an increase in efficiency as well. The price of a single watt of solar has dropped 95 percent in the past 30 years. In other words, what cost you around $20 in 1980 is now just over a buck. (Meanwhile, everything else you used to buy for a dollar is headed up, up, up.)

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2. Media darling SolarCity makes headlines with new batteries: With panel efficiency on the up and up, the next big hurdle in the way of photovoltaic world domination is the cost and viability of energy storage. While solar power can pack a punch when skies are blue, it flames out quickly in the face of clouds. In order to be a viable power source for the juiced-up world, it needs to keep working for us during drizzle, frizzle, “wintry mix”, thunderstorms, snowstorms, sandstorms, smogstorms, solar eclipses, total eclipses of the heart, and (maybe we should have mentioned this first) nighttime.

Enter SolarCity’s new batteries. Each battery is about as large as a small refrigerator — more sun-size than fun-size — and can hold a third of the power produced by the solar array. The storage software, called DemandLogic, is designed to reduce costs for commercial solar users based on when energy demand is the highest (coincidentally, often in the middle of the day when solar energy is the most readily available). The system should also be able to provide power to the grid during blackouts — all of which should smooth the way toward global solar hegemony. Take us to your leader (that’d be Lyndon Rive and his close partner/ famous cousin, cleantech billionaire Elon Musk).

Not this kind of battery.
ShutterstockNot this kind of battery.

3. Solar is worth it, and not just if you’re Warren Buffett. Solar panels seem poised to upend traditional utility models, according to those same utilities. Grid parity — that elusive moment when solar energy costs drop to the energy market norm — is pretty much here. Despite attacks from groups like ALEC and lawsuits from grumpy utilities, solar panel users are out there saving the planet while saving money. Sometimes they even make a little cash selling the electricity from their panels back into the grid.

4. Solar Mosaic spends millions of (someone else’s) dollars: If you are not content to consider solar power an investment in the future of humanity, how do you feel about it as an investment, period? Solar Mosaic broke out the tried and true crowdfunding model in 2010 to help average Joes fund solar installations on the roofs of nonprofits, schools, shelters, and the like. The energy was then leased to the business in question, and investors were rewarded with a slow and steady payback on their original loans. It’s like Kiva for sun junkies.