With the climate change threatening the integrity of Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and terrain, innovators have been prompted to find creative uses for solar power today. Terrestrial sources of energy, such as fossil fuels, struggle to meet the demands of economy with a very finite supply. In addition, such traditional sources of power come with the release of harmful greenhouse gases and pollutants as a direct result of use. Solar power, in contrast, is a clean, simple, sustainable and affordable alternative fuel source.
Consumers are making a shift to more energy efficient power sources, from choosing to drive all-electric cars, new vehicle redesign, or simply swapping out incandescent lights for lower wattage bulbs. Solar panels, however, continue to be a leader in providing alternative sources of energy to power devices and homes. There have been many developments in solar innovation in the past few years.
For example, solar panels, which are thick and bulky, are being replaced by thin film solar cells. These thin, rolled “prints” are helping to reduce installation costs in solar energy, and are also broadening the placement options for solar power producers. Thin-film photovaltaic cells were included in Time magazine’s Best Inventions of 2008. This lightweight and easy-to-use, cheap-to-produce alternative to its clunkier cousin, the traditional solar panel, is a product of Nanosolar, a start-up that rolls thin-panel film off of an assembly line, but does not bake the batches like the silicone predecessors to thin-film paneling.
Climate change has also prompted a creative way to cut down on sunlight coming in through windows, as well as harnessing the solar power of that light. Solar windows, or windows that have been treated with electricity-generating coating, are transparent, but convert sunshine into energy. This new take on solar panels are less than 1/4 the size of a grain of rice, but serve efficiently as the world’s smallest solar cells.
Easy to use and install, these cells have the potential to produce 10 times the electrical energy of the product’s hulking alternative, conventional rooftop solar panels. A study provided by manufacturer New Energy Technologies explained that, if installed on all four sides of a 50-story building, the Solar Window would generate enough electricity to power 130 homes each year (compared to traditional, rooftop solar energy panels, which only produce enough energy to power 3-11 homes annually).
Homes are wired to run off of AC power, and solar panels harness and store DC power from the sun’s rays, leaving home owners responsible for transforming energy from solar farming. Using microinverters, home owners can use just one panel and inverter to furnish a solar power generating endeavor. Pragmatic and affordable, for less than $200 solar power enthusiasts can mount microinverters on each panel. (Most people start with one or two panels, adding panels over time.)
Another alternative to traditional solar panels of the 90’s are so-called hairy solar panels. These panels contain light-absorbing nanowires, which protrude from a carbon-nanotube fabric, and can absorb more solar energy than silicon is capable of. Technologies such as hairy solar panels have the potential to harvest energy more efficiently.
Climate change has also prompted some creative use and innovations of objects for the home that harness solar power. A solar powered keyboard from Logitech Wireless isn’t bogged down by traditional power sources or batteries. Powered indoors by sunlight or by the rays of a desk lamp this 1/3 inch thick keyboard is a perfect “green” accessory. The Sun Table, a waterproof 45 pound teak molded table has a sturdy stainless steel skeleton. The construction is advertised as “unbreakable.” Using a 64 watt multicrystalline panel, the table functions as a power source even when partially covered. The $2500 accessory stores energy from the sun, which can be harnessed and used to power electronic devices outdoors via a water-safe, covered power outlet built directly into the table.
There are a host of solar powered toys and gadgets available today, as well. For instance, Sharp, LG and Samsung have all created or are in the process of creating a solar hybrid cell phone, which sports a solar panel that absorbs sun rays and produces battery life from those exposures. I-Slate, an affordable tablet device for under-served youth who attend schools without electric power, is being tested by children in rural India. LG offers a 10 cm Sony ebook reader, which stays charged for a full day once exposed to four to five hours of sunlight.
Climate change recently brought about the passage of a mandate aimed to streamline and reduce emissions in factories in the U.S. Climate change has also prompted some amazing and creative advancements in technology and conservation efforts, and this includes the commendable breakthroughs in solar power. Through continued research, scientists and researchers hope to affect change over the consequences of global warming on Earth’s environment.
By Mariah Beckman