Photovoltaic solar energy is one of the greatest discoveries of the last 100 years or so, and it is one that is going to be ever more prominent in our day to day lives. Here is how it all started and how I think it could be used in the future.
A 19 year old Frenchman first observed the photovoltaic effect in 1839, using an electrode in a conductive solution exposed to light; his name was Alexandre Edmond Becquerel. Although he discovered the effect, he did not build the first ever solar cell. That was down to Aleksandr Stoletov, who built the first solar cell based on the outer photoelectric effect between 1888-1891.
By the 1950’s the solar cell was introduced to the general public when it was used in toys, novelty goods and calculators. It wasn’t cheap though as it cost about $250 to make a cell that produced 1 Watt of energy. Despite the cost to make the cells, it was put to major use onboard the Vanguard I satellite, with the aim to extend the time available on the space mission. It proved to be a massive success and more work was put into solar products.
In the 1960’s it was predicted that by the year 2000, electricity would be much more expensive and photovoltaic solar power would be an appealing alternative. From then the solar panel has been continuously developed and made more and more efficient at harnessing the suns rays to create electricity.
1977 marked the day that oil companies who had been using solar, decided to buy into it, with ARCO leading the way, creating a company dedicated to making solar panels and one that is still running today.
In recent years we have seen solar introduced into more everyday life situations, such as on our homes, in parking metres and even on traffic signs. Photovoltaic energy is saving the earth from millions of tonnes of CO2 each year, and we are discovering more and more new ways to incorporate it into our lives. A highway in Oregon, USA, is completely lit by 104 KW solar power lights, and Norfolk recently switched off 27,000 lights between midnight and 5am to cut carbon emissions and save the Norfolk County Council £167,000 a year. They then proceeded to replace the lights with energy efficient ones, saving money and reducing carbon emissions.
With solar street lights beginning to take a hold in many areas of the world, I doubt it will be too long before electric cars, bikes, lorries and buses will be the norm. Electric cars are already well into production and inventors are coming up with more efficient ways to charge and store this energy. An electric Tesla recently travelled the length of Britain for just £20, from top to bottom, completing the journey in 3 days. It definitely isn’t that cheap to do it in a petrol or diesel car! Even little things in life are becoming solar powered, such as watches, monitoring equipment and mobile phone chargers.
What will solar be used for in the future?
There are currently solar mobile phones, but I wouldn’t say they are mainstream yet. When the iPhone or Blackberry is solar powered I will definitely be getting one, as long as it doesn’t effect performance.
They have already created solar panels that follow the position of the sun, so I don’t think it will be too much longer before everybody has at least one of these on their roof, in their gardens or on a garage.
An interesting one my colleague thought of was for solar powered shopping trolleys and mobility scooters. Shopping trolleys sit outside all day so they would be charged constantly, the wheels are always a nightmare, and they are hard to manoeuvre especially as you cram more shopping in, so I think it has potential to really help us in day to day life.
Could solar energy be used for medical advances? For example, could a pacemaker be made to be solar powered? If they can invent a magnetic battery pack that charges in the sun, it could then be placed onto the chest to transfer the energy into a specially made pacemaker through a magnetic field, much like how an electric car charges in a garage. A pacemaker has to be changed every few years, so this would not only save on the time in surgery, but also save money on batteries and potentially save lives.
What do you think of my ideas? Have you got any brilliant solar energy ideas? If you do, I would love to hear some from you, so feel free to leave a comment.