Solar cells, or to give them their proper scientific name photovoltaic cells have been around for longer than you first evidence that we (humans) tried to use the power from the sun comes from a scientist called A.E. Becquerel. At the age of just nineteen he performed an experiment that generated a photo-voltage current. All this took place in 1839 in his father's laboratory.
It was not until the 1870's that further developments began with W.G. Adams and R.E. Day performed further experiments and observed the photovoltaic effect in selenium. From this point onwards the evolution of the solar cell began as developments became more frequent and 1888 the term solar cell was patented by Edward Weston.
Development of technology
For a technology that has been around for over 170 years it does still feel like the technology is still in its infancy. For the most part the technology was not something that the general public would have been aware of. It big break into the public consciousness was when satellite started to use solar panel
to charge their batteries during the late 1950's. At this time exploration into space was a massive thing and the whole world seemed to have a desire to soak up knowledge.
It must have felt that this new solar power was going going to ta over the world. This free power would be able to power cars and homes. However 70 years later and to be honest not much has changed, we are all still reliant on fossil fuels.
Part of the reason for this is cost. It is remains a source of energy that is more expensive than fossil fuels. Which has prevented their development whilst the fossil fuel supplies were still abundant.
To help to illustrate this let's look at the efficiency:
1950s solar cells
Today's cells=20% efficiency
coal and oil power=33% efficiency
Gas fire power=60% efficiency
So you can see why solar cells have not taken off in a big way when fossil fuels can do the same job more efficiently.However, as we get closer to the fossil fuel supplies running dry then our hands will be forced. Which is why many countries subsidies the technology now to help improve the uptake. In the last five years or so in the UK government grants have helped consumer to be able to afford installation of solar panels on their homes.
What is the future for the solar cell?
For starters the technology needs to advance quickly, become cheaper and more efficient. We are already seeing vast solar forms being build in isolated areas. Billions of dollars are being invested in such schemes with brave claims being touted that we could see solar farms could power the whole of Europe. I guess we will have to wait and see.
Certainly on a smaller scale we are likely to become familiar with seeing more solar powered things. From lamppost to vehicles. We are on the verge of changing our dependence and currently a lot depends on our willingness to opt to the technology. Will consumers be brave enough to change from gas guzzling cars to electric vehicles. I guess only time will tell.
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