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Solar Power: What is it Really?

The History of Solar Power

Solar power as we know it was first used in the 1950’s. While inefficient compared to some of the technology we have today, the wonders of solar power have been gracing our skies on satellites since the very beginning of solar power research.

Solar power really became part of a national conversation in the 1970’s. The idea that the sun could power electronics and homes was revolutionary then and still is until this day. Most Americans had their first exposure to solar power in 1978 when solar power calculators emerged. The same technology that kept your math calculations accurate is now being used to power entire houses and factories.

The Basics of Solar Power

Solar power is based off of the energy emitted from the sun. Solar power is collected by using a collection of silicone cells (also called photovoltaic cells) pointed towards the sun. Silicone cells are created by taking pure silicone and mixing it with some other atoms to make a conductive element. This silicone mixture is than put into a form resembling computer chips and than latched together to make a panel. This conductive panel will absorb the energy emitted by the sun.

The energy is at this point in the form of DC energy (like the AA batteries that power electronic race cars). At this point it can be funneled into an inverter that will turn the energy from DC energy to AC energy (the energy that would power your house through normal wall voltage). At this point, energy could be used directly, i.e. funneled directly into outlets, power grids, etc. or fed into batteries to store the electricity for later use.

The Practicality of Solar Power

The power given to us from solar panels could be used for a variety of uses, from powering homes to heating water for human use. The sad truth of solar power is that it is still incredibly expensive, costing at least $10,000 USD for a single family home. This is not including the cost of set up or for a DC to AC converter or batteries to store the energy for later use. But, for homes in rural areas that get a lot of sunlight, solar power might just be a practical option, especially in areas where it can cost upwards of $15,000 to have power routed away from the main lines.

Solar power does give us a wealth of benefits though. Each time a home uses solar power instead of conventional power, they are reducing carbon emissions. In one example, the energy used to power one workshop (equivelant to powering about nine single family homes) was equivelent to removing 200 cars from the road ways.

Advancements in Solar Power

Solar power is constantly evolving. The energy-focused stance of this current administration is causing funding and interest to be funelled into the world of solar energy. As of this moment, there are solar panels that are able to not only provide clean, efficent energy, but also able to survive strong winds and hail stones. Also, one company,Konarka, is working on creating solar cells that could be printed by injet printers. These, along with the super thing solar films already designed by the company, will surly change the face of solar panels in the next five years.

Work Cited

Scott Aldous, How Solar Cells Work”, How Stuff Works
Ben Stewart, Jay’s Green Garage”, Popular Mechanics
General Electric, “FAQs About Solar Power”, GE Energy

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