Today we're going to take a look at the innovations in solar technology in recent years and how it has changed the world around us, and check out some of the novel uses for solar technology.
The first and most relevant one to those of us who want to reduce our electricity bills is the use of solar power to generate residential electricity. The number of homes generating solar power that are connected to the electricity grid is growing year on year, and great subsidy programs in countries who appreciate the value of solar energy
and how important it is for our future are helping it to catch up with fossil fuel based systems.
Newer buildings are being constructed with photovoltaic panels integrated into them, sometimes with solar cells actually being used as roof tiles! This solves a lot of the problems people have with the aesthetics of solar panel
The fact that solar power can be used for off grid systems means that areas which were previously inconvenient to inhabit due to their distance from electrical power grids are now an option for holiday homes, farms, etc. Solar power can be used in such remote areas to power water pumps to get a fresh water supply to them from wells or other sources as well.
In standalone devices, solar power has proved an invaluable innovation. Chances are if you drive on the highways, you've seen that the emergency phones that line the hard shoulder have solar panels on top of them these days. This completely eradicates the need for an electricity supply to them saving millions of miles of cabling and the work associated with it. The same is true of modern parking meters, road signs, and so on. Solar street lighting is also gaining prominence. LED driven street lights have an extremely high efficiency, meaning they need very little current to operate and they have a very long lifetime making them ideal to be twinned with daytime solar charging and allowing them to become standalone electric devices that don't need to be connected to the electricity grid.
An ambitious project in Sicily, Italy involves integrating solar panels right into the highway. A 19 mile stretch on the island of Sicily is going to have panels integrated into the roadway to power the street-lighting, tunnel fans, and emergency phones. The estimated energy from the solar highway is thought to be in the region of 12 GW per year!
A more adventurous project in solar technology involves harnessing the sun's energy in space using satellites and relaying it to earth, which would minimise losses by being able to transmit the energy to particular locations on earth from the satellites. Of course, the cost involved with launching these satellites is probably prohibitively expensive for now. An even more ambitious plan has been suggested, that involves covering the surface of the moon with solar panels and sending the energy back to earth! For now, I think that's the stuff of science fiction novels J
The promise of a solar car which would make commuters oil free is an exciting prospect, but the truth is that solar panels on top of a car could only generate a few hundred watts at best, and even a modest compact car has an engine with a power output of 50kW. Even with extreme streamlining and weight reduction it seems unlikely that a fully solar powered car is feasible. At the moment it seems the best we can hope for is an onboard solar energy system which contributes to charging the battery of an electric car.
However, there have been test flights of a solar powered airplane and believe it or not, a round the world flight is planned for 2013! The Solar Impluse has managed speeds of 75 mph at 28,000 feet with its massive 207 foot wingspan. It has 400 kg of batteries on board and a whopping 35,000 solar cells to keep it powered and airborne. It is quite impressive and awe inspiring to think that nothing but the sun's energy can facilitate a craft like this to fly, just don't expect to be hopping on a solar powered 747 for an intercontinental flight any time soon!
As you can see, solar power as a concept is growing and growing. Researchers and engineers are coming up with more ambitious projects to harness as much of this green, free energy as possible. The future is certainly exciting for solar power! If you're interested in getting on board the solar highway, pay us a visit at the Solar Hub to get the lowdown!
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