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The massive growth of solar power

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Giant Solar Cell Field

Over the recent years the use and development of solar power has sky-rocketed. Simultaneously, the call for renewable energy sources, as opposed to diminishing and polluting fossil fuel sources, has grown louder. One of those attractive renewable energy sources is solar energy. The Sun already plays an indispensable role in all Earth’s life, but the idea that it can also help to decrease the impact humankind leaves on everything around us, is almost magical. The attraction of using the Sun’s energy to create electricity is undeniably what drew the first scientists towards the development of solar power.

What is solar power?

This article will specifically discuss solar power: the use of solar energy to create electricity. Of course, solar energy has been benefiting mankind since before we first landed on the shores. Its warmth created livable circumstances for the possibility of life and its light was used to grow crops and to guide during the day, and still is. As mankind developed further, the use of solar energy increased. The inventions of using a piece of magnifying glass to start fires, and of evaporation to purify saline water all date back to millions of years back.
Solar Power Global Potential

First developments

A scientist named Alexandre Edmond Becquerel is claimed to have first discovered the photovoltaic effect in 1839. The photovoltaic effect is the chemical and physical capacity of a material to create electricity when exposed to light, and was an essential discovery in the road towards solar cell use.

The development of solar power first came to life in the 1860s, when coal was widely used as the main energy source, and the expectation rose that it would run out in time. In 1873 another scientist discovered that selenium was a highly capable material in creating electricity from light. In 1883 the first functional selenium solar cell was created. The cost of this cell was too high to weigh up to the cell’s efficiency of about 1%.
US Solar Industry infographic

In the 1900s the development of solar power came to a halt again, after coal and petroleum became more widely available and applicable. In 1974, the worldwide oil embargo spurted an increase of interest in solar power. International facilities were founded to research the development of solar power, but research was practically abandoned again as soon as oil prices dropped in the eighties and the necessity for alternative energy sources decreased.

Recent developments

Since 1995 another growth spurt in the development and use of solar cells has been taking place. This was due to the growing awareness about global warming and again, the diminishing of fossil fuel sources. Politics got involved as well, administering promotional tax and output benefits on renewable energy, causing investments in renewable power production to surge.

Solar power has always been in the lead of renewable energy sources because of its stable presence, availability and efficiency compared to other sources.

The past five years know an enormous increase in Megawatts-output from photovoltaic solar cells, with an annual total of about 100,000 mWs in 2012 to about 300,000 in 2016. It is expected that this number will at least double again in the upcoming two or three years.

This increase is due to the technological developments of solar cells, making them cheaper and easier to manufacture, and also less expensive to purchase. It is also very beneficial for availability and prices that China has overtaken the production market since 2015. They have been in the market since the 2000s, but used to only copy the available technology. Now their strategy has shifted towards improving and researching solar power technology. This trend will continue as well in the upcoming years, making cells more accessible for even the smaller households.

Future expectations

In the future it is expected that common solar cells will be made more efficient, producing more electricity from the Sun’s rays and possibly enhancing the achievements in cloudy weather as well. The benefit of more efficient panels is also that less panels are needed to produce a certain amount of electricity per area, diminishing the ground area needed to place them. Less panels also means that the installation process will become shorter and therefore cheaper.

Solar power batteries

Also, it is expected that within due time smaller and larger scale batteries will become available to store generated solar power. Especially in households kWhs generated by solar power must be used immediately, or are returned to the electricity infrastructure for a small fee that is incomparable to the cost of a kWh. With the availability of batteries it will become possible for households to become fully independent of the electricity network.

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