May 22, 2013

How Has Solar Energy Improved Throughout the Years?

It’s now common to see solar panels on rooftops and buildings around the country - these collect energy from the Sun, which is then converted through photovoltaic panels and generators into electricity. Government feed-in tariffs have recently made it possible for solar panels to be bought at lower costs than previous years, with uses ranging from backup generators, to panels representing a long term alternative to reliance on electrical grids. However, in what ways has solar energy improved throughout the years?

The potential for solar energy to be stored and made use of goes back to the 18th century - Horace-Benedict de Saussure was able to create a glass solar collector that absorbed enough heat from the Sun to act as a makeshift oven. In 1839, scientists realised how to create a photovoltaic cell by using electrodes and an electrolyte to turn heat into electrical current. Later in the century, selenium was used as a conducting material, albeit with a working solar cell still something of a prototype.

At the turn of the 20th century, solar power remained primarily theoretical, albeit with solar cells able to store energy - experiments were gradually made into making solar cells capable of transmitting electricity as an alternative to standard generators and grids - much of this experimentation came through government bodies, including NASA, who worked on using solar panels as an efficient way of powering satellites and space stations during the 1950s.

While a consumer demand existed for an energy source that could be used to lower electricity bills, affordable housing and relatively low energy costs for homes, coupled with the expense of installing solar panels, limited uptake. Moreover, solar panels by the 1960s still only had a 14 per cent efficiency - this was to change in the 1970s as Exxon created a more workable solar cell, and again in the 1980s as experiments were made into solar powered aircraft and cars that used multiple cells working together.

Wider commercial use of solar energy, then, depended on lowering costs while making individual solar cells much better at storing and transmitting energy - solar cells are now about 36 per cent efficient, and continue to get better and better; more homes are able to install solar panels and generators, with costs helped by government investment and subsidies that make long term investments possible.

In recent years, there has also been a trend towards better integrating photovoltaic technology into buildings - rather than having panels on roofs, experiments have been into building panels right into the membrane of roofs and walls, with green roofs using vegetation and soluble membranes offering a way to combine different forms of eco friendly power. Some examples of buildings that are integrating solar panels into their basic design include the CIS Tower in Manchester, with the goal of lowering energy costs.

Author Bio : Lisa Jane blogs about green tech and architecture. She has recently invested in a green roof with solar panels, and recommends going with Bauder for deals on your next green building project.
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