Due to the fact that fossil fuel scarcity continues to come upon us apace, causing rising petroleum prices and global warming, governments have renewed their interest and policies surrounding renewable and ‘Earth-friendly’ energy sources. One of the main forms of energy to gain mass attention is solar energy, and this sector has seen rapid advancements in recent times.
When you consider even surface statistics it is not hard to see why: Just 40 minutes of sunshine will give off enough energy to power the entire popular of the world for an entire year. Considering as well that only around 1% of the energy emitted by the sun is actually harnessed and used for energy down on Earth it is clear that, despite the advances made, there is still a long way to go and much development still required.
Using solar energy as a source of power is certainly not a new idea and solar panels to trap and store solar energy to be turned into electricity and power were developed as far back as the 1970s. These panels were, however, incredibly large and bulky thus making their usage inconvenient as well as prohibitively expensive. It has largely been thanks to the parallel devilment of the home computer industry, also largely pioneered back in the 1970s and early 1980s, that the costs could be driven down significantly thanks to technological advancement and efficiency in terms of solar energy technology. It was such computer technology that led directly to the development and subsequent usage of photovoltaic solar cells and collection systems and made them cheaper and more user friendly.
Photovoltaic research has also been greatly enhanced by research into thin cell solar research, also known as nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology uses extremely tiny cells created with minerals and silicon in order to collect solar energy and thus allow nanoparticle enabled developers to produce such things as spray-on coatings for cells that can also be sprayed onto the roof of a building. Such sprays aid in the storing of solar energy and also convert it into electricity, allowing photovoltaic modules to become thinner and significantly decreased in both size and cost, thus making them far more accessible and convenient for everyday consumers. This is also vital due to the fact that many local planning regulations would prohibit the fixing of huge and unwieldy solar panels onto domestic roofs while small, less obtrusive ones conform easily to such rules. In fact, nanotechnology has made solar cells appear so futuristic in appearance that green-savvy domestic consumers now even treat them as fashion statements as well as future green investments.
Solar energy can be used not only for generating electricity but also for heating and even cooling spaces as well as heating water. Using solar energy for heating and cooling is called Solar Thermal, and these systems can be implemented in either active or passive forms. If the system is active then moving parts are involved in order to constantly adjust the system to maximum efficiency while if it is passive there are no moving parts used in addition to the collection unit. Given the versatility of solar power both active and passive systems can be used in tandem with conventional heating systems (and in many cases to power them) in order to regulate building temperature.
While it is true that solar power systems are still relatively expensive in the main we can simply look at the parallel development with computer technology in order to track its potential future progress. Hone computer ownership was once also prohibitively expensive and was the benefit of the lucky few. Now, however, most homes have one or more computers. As technological advances continue it is certain that solar power and photovoltaic cells will also advance, and we may well soon see its application in not only homes, but also cars and other forms of transportation.