The History of Solar Energy & Solar Panels
The Solar Revolution
Our world as we know it is evolving rapidly. Ever since the Industrial Revolution at the end of the 18th century, the world has experienced new ways of living, undreamed of before. The industrial age has given rise to such technologies as steam engines, land and air travel, space exploration, and the rise of computers and electronics which eventually leads to where we are now: the age of the internet.
Although these advancements are quite fantastic to those who could not imagine our modern world, we do have one of the greatest challenges humanity is currently facing — Global Warming.
Coal and Other Fossil Fuels
When coal was first used as the driving force of steam engines, planet earth began the process of having its atmosphere bombarded by large amounts of carbon dioxide, the waste product of burning coal, and turning it into energy. Carbon dioxide in the air traps the heat just like the glass ceiling of a greenhouse. The carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere right now are approximately 412 parts per million and scientists believe this is higher than any time in the last 800,000 years.
Coal is just one of the fossil fuels being used to power our modern world. Other fossil fuels like natural gases and oil are also widely used for cars, planes, and the generation of electricity. It is unimaginable to let go of the current technologies that drive our world. This poses quite a challenge of how we could power them up in a way that could sustain our world and our very existence. Fortunately, some scientists and innovators have worked tirelessly to find effective means of harvesting other sources of energy.
Early Solar Energy
Solar energy for one has recently found its way into our lives in such a way that it has never been used before—in the form of electricity. People have always found a way to harness solar energy to a minor degree. Ancient Egyptians are known to have worshipped the sun and to harness the sun’s energy by directing their homes in a manner that captured the sun’s rays, which stored heat in the walls of their homes so that they could have some kind of heating system on cold desert nights. Other cultures in the ancient world also had their ways of harnessing the energy of the sun. The Greeks and Romans also used the sun to heat their homes and baths. However, no society has ever come close to what we have accomplished in developing the use of the sun’s energy.
The Development of Solar Cells
The development of solar cells in the 1940s has made it possible for light from the sun to be converted to electricity. Solar Panels are made up of combined solar cells. The cells are made out of silicon. The top layer of a panel is made of phosphorus. It has a positive charge. The bottom layer is made of boron and it has a negative charge.
Light from the sun interacts with the positive and negative charge and thereby releases an electric current in the silicon field. The current generated in the field is a direct current (DC). A wire attached to the panel brings the direct current to an inverter that converts it into an alternating current (AC) which can be used by our home appliances.
Solar Energy and the Battle Against Climate Change
It may sound obvious that solar energy is the perfect way to power modern living but for the whole planet to transition from the dependence of fossil fuels for electricity to solar power may take some time.
First of all, most houses all over the world are already using electricity that is being run by companies using fossil fuel. Our infrastructure has been built around the supply of electricity to our homes. The first power plants were run on wood, while today we rely mainly on oil, natural gas, coal, hydroelectric and nuclear power and a small amount from hydrogen, solar energy, tidal harnesses, wind generators, and geothermal sources. About 63 percent of the electricity from these power industries comes from fossil fuels.
Solar on the Rise
Luckily, more and more local power companies are supporting the conversion to residential solar power. As well, independent solar power companies have sprung up in the last decade, and the cost of converting one’s home to solar power has had a 60 to 90 percent decrease. That is good news, as this allows more and more families to afford solar energy. Most installers provide ways to finance your switch to solar power and maintenance plans for the upkeep of your solar panel system.
The next step would be to decide whether you stay connected to the grid or add batteries to the system so that you do not have to be connected to the grid. Depending on where you live, you may not have the option to decide to switch from the electricity generated by the solar panels to the one coming from your electric company. During the daytime, you may generate excess electricity from your solar panels. This electricity can be distributed back to the grid and this amount of electricity will be credited to your electric bill. Others decide to buy batteries so that they no longer have to stay grid-connected.
The Solar Age?
Whether we are aware of it or not, a lot is at stake in our switch to using sunlight as our source of energy. Although it may take a lot of convincing for the big power companies to completely switch and upgrade the systems, some are doing the groundwork for its expansion now. Perhaps the 21st century will be known for the dramatic switch from one age to another and perhaps the next age that is dawning is the Solar Age.