“Every hour the sun beams onto Earth more than enough energy to satisfy global energy needs for an entire year.” – National Geographic.com
“The sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace.” – They Might Be Giants
In a world where energy resources are finite, we only need to look skyward to find an unlimited source of power. The sun, which already does a darn good job in keeping us warm and illuminated, and also prevents us from spinning off screaming into the black void of space, can also change the way we use energy. Here are a handful of solar power innovations that are making an impact on our planet right now, or are on the verge of a breakthrough.
Solar power: the world energy game-changer
Taking a page from Mother Nature, researchers have developed an artificial leaf that’s made from a thin silicon solar cell that separates oxygen and hydrogen molecules and powers fuel cells that in turn create electricity. Their effectiveness is not as good as solar panels, but this is offset by their profoundly inexpensive production costs.
There are over one billion smart phones worldwide, and every single one of them is thirsty for electricity. Mind boggling, isn’t it? Portable charging stations powered by solar energy and mobile device covers that are effective solar panels, are starting to make their presences known.
The acronym stands for Building Integrated Photovoltaics. In layman’s terms, they are solar panels built into the construction of a building, as opposed to adding panels later on. With BIPVs, you can have facades, curtain walls, or roof shingles, all with thin-film solar panels built right into them. They are cost-effective, and when you get right down to it, look pretty awesome.
Nothing drives home (pun intended) the need for solar powered innovation like pulling your car up to the gas pump and watching your bank account get pumped into the gas tank. Significant strides have been made in bringing the production costs of a solar-powered electric car down to the same level as conventional automobile manufacturing. Also on the horizon are new developments in solar fuel charging stations that could really come in handy when the sun’s not out there, shining.
Places in the world that aren’t connected to a power grid usually have to rely on things like kerosene lamps, which present their own hazards and pollution. Companies are now producing inexpensive, long-lasting solar charging appliances, which includes lamps. In addition, clean energy microgrids, which provide power to up to 100 households.
Infrared Solar Power
If you remember your science classes, you know that sunlight exists not only on the normal light wavelengths, but also in the ultra-violet and infrared spectrums as well. As it stands right now, we can only collect visible light and turn it into energy. This accounts for three-fifths of the sun’s light. Imagine what we can do if we can harness the rest of it as well! Researchers at MIT have developed carbon-based solar panels (as opposed to the usual silicon-based ones) that can grab infrared light.
Unfortunately, there are still many details to work out, so we won’t be seeing this innovation rolled out anytime soon.
With these innovations and others, the world’s energy consumption should look very different in the next quarter century. Unlimited energy from the sun means a brighter future for everyone.
Photo Credit: Living Off Grid