“The Solar Industry Has Been Waiting 60 Years For This To Happen — And It Finally Just Did” businessinsider.com.au/sola (2014)
When it comes to solar power, the headline from the Business Insider is off by several thousand years off.
Millennia prior to human reliance on fossil fuels for energy, electricity, and heat, people relied on the sun for the comforts and necessities of life. The sun was revered by many ancient cultures, often as a god, but certainly as the most powerful element of their world. The concept of using solar power for general purposes it not a modern one.
The Egyptians were the first civilization known to use solar energy on a large scale to heat their homes. Egyptian houses were designed to store heat in thick building walls during the day, which then released the heat after the sun went down to warm the interiors at night. Many civilizations are known to use techniques for putting solar energy to work heating homes and buildings and many other things.
Ancient Egyptian Housing
Image Source: pp.emaze.com/egyptian-home
Egypt’s 1st solar powered village (2016)
Image Source: mentalfloss.com/egypt
“The Greeks used the power of the sun by focusing its energy through a magnifying glass, to start their cooking fires. Sun power was also a major consideration in siting buildings. “Socrates taught classes on the art of passive solar architecture—how to build houses and other buildings to best take advantage of the sun’s light and energy.”
Image Source: pinterest.com/pin/687a Image Source: kosexplorer.com/place/ancient-house
Image Source: crystalinks.com/romebaths.html
The prehistory of the solar panel began in 1839 when 19-year-old physicist named Edmond Becquerel (French) was working on the coating of platinum electrodes using silver chloride. He discovered a rise in voltage on exposure to light, and the effect was named the photovoltaic effect
Augustin Mouchot’s solar engine
Image credit: Academie De Touraine
Image Source: ecotality.com/history-of-solar-panels/
Charles Fritts solar panels installed, NY(1884)
Image Credit: Smithsonian Magazine
Image Source: ecotality.com/history-of-solar-panels/
In a famous paper published in 1905, Einstein explained the photovoltaic (PV) effect and postulated that light had an attribute that had not yet been recognized. Einstein said light contains packets of energy which he called light quanta (now called photons).
In April, 1954 a slightly modified wafer of silicon, called a "solar cell", that converted sunlight directly into electrical energy was unveiled by Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, NJ. The solar cell was an outgrowth of transistor research. It worked at an efficiency of six percent (6%), comparable to gasoline engines at the time.
The Bell Labs Team Image Credit: Greentech Media
Image Source: : ecotality.com/history-of-solar-panels/
Image Credit: Library of Congress
Image Source: businessinsider.com.au/solar-water-heater
Since the 1970 the idea of solar heating and solar power has been catching on slowly – boosted later on by the federal and state incentives -- and the sophistication and efficiency of the panels have been steadily improving. Many experimental houses were built under the auspices of universities as part of the early ecology/ save-the-planet movement before there was any public awareness of environmental impacts and no “green” movement.
dreamstime.com/old-solar-panel-1970 Image Credit: Ottawa: Division of Building Research,
National Research Council - Image Source:
THE UGLY-ROOF ERA
As popularity of using solar energy primarily for heating grew, so did the costs of the improved panels and the labor to install. According to solarenergyworld.com, “some people who claim to be pro-environment say they won’t go solar because they do not like how the panels look. This is surprising considering the devastating effect fossil fuels have had on the health of our planet. This proves beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Trash bags on the roof
Image Source: celestialsolar.com/solar-pool-heating/
Visual incompatibility of materials
Image Source: 1.ciampeathehomedesignings.com/
One of the reasons solar panels are basically unattractive is because the people who build them – Giving them the benefit of the doubt -- are guided by size and the best and longest exposure to the sun. Aesthetics don’t mean much to a contractor who installs panels. The stark contrast between the solar panel in the second photo and the roofing material is not aesthetically pleasing.
Source of Images: evelectricity.com/solar
Of course, most of us have to approach the purchase (or rental) of solar panels from the position of having to retrofit existing housing. Cost is always a factor. These kinds of solutions have been what the average Joe in the US can afford with or without government incentives. New construction has always offered more pleasant alternatives to the roof panel.
21st CENTURY INNOVATION SAVES THE DAY
Only in recent years have the technology and materials been developed to solve these problems. Now days, the entire roof of the house can be the solar energy system for the home.
“Small solar panels are typically miniature or technologically advanced versions of larger systems. This can range from a small solar panel of few solar cells wired together to make a small but easy-to-use solar panel, to nano-materials that are invisible to the naked eye but still produce electric current. Small solar panels can also be found in radio sets, transmitters, calculators and other portable appliances.” solarenergyfactsblog.com/small-solar-panels/
Today, solar panels and miniaturized solar cells come in a variety of forms and colors.
New spray-on solar technology can turn all windows and other exposed surfaces into solar panels. A film of light absorbing meta-nano-particles is sprayed on surfaces like windows to make them capable of trapping the sunlight and converting it to electricity. Perhaps one of the most advanced solar inventions, spray-on films can generate electricity on see-through glass and even exterior walls. However, this technology is still mostly
restricted to the lab.
Tiny spray on solar panel - Image Source: solarenergyfactsblog.com/
Thin film solar panels, which are comprised of a super-thin, flexible film, can be quite small and suited to specific purposes (like solar calculators). Their flexibility means that can be used almost anywhere and they’re finding more real-world applications as time goes on.
Thin film solar panels - Image Source: solarenergyfactsblog.com/
Solar shingles are a variation of solar panels in the form of roof tiles. These solar panels resemble roofing tiles in size and texture and can be used for a (possibly) more aesthetically pleasing solar array. Modern solar tiles which use copper indium gallium selenide semiconductor films are cost effective
and efficient. There are now a variety of these on the market.Solar Shingles - Image Source: solarenergyfactsblog.com/
Image Source: dwell.com/article/plant-prefab-livinghomes
Solar roof tiles by Tesla Company - Images Source:
Solar panels are extremely versatile in that they can be used anywhere in the world and in numerous different applications. They can be used by homeowners who connect to the utility grid, allowing them to sell excess electricity produced to the utility.
A small solar installation can even be coupled with batteries to create micro-grids shared by several communities, allowing remote villages to have electricity for the very first time.
Source of Images: /roof-tube.co.uk/no-more-ugly-solar-panels/
Lft - Solar roof tiles
Image Source: goodshomedesign.com/green-electricity
Center - Clay-looking solar tiles
Image Source: energis.com.au/
In addition to heating houses and other buildings, solar energy is used to power many other things, many of which people see everyday. I found one use, however, that really surprised me.
Image Source: arch2o.com/first-solar-panel-road/
The road is expected to be used by approximately 2,000 motorists per day, generating 767 Kilowatt-hours which should be sufficient for supplying the 3,400-resident village’s streetlights with electricity. Still it cost 5 million euros which is highly cost ineffective.
Project directors believe that they are “still on an experimental phase,” and have learned new improved methods for the installation and manufacturing of the solar panels which can be used for the rest of the project.
What are these people thinking?