So you see that big burning ball of gas up there in the sky? That is the future of charging your laptop, phone, tablet, or whatever device you’re reading this on.
For centuries the sun has played an essential and precious role in the development of the human race, and it’s usefulness has never been as neglected as now. Worship and use of the sun as a resource dates back even as far as the ancient Romans, who used glass windows to warm buildings and public baths by trapping heat for longer periods¹. This shows how much we as a species have acknowledged the importance of the sun as a source of energy, which has continued to the modern era.
The sun is one of the biggest, under-used sources of potential energy that we currently have at our disposal and we have known this for so long, but how does the technology work and why is it so efficient?
It all begins with photovoltaic (PV) cells, more commonly known as solar panels. These cells are made of silicon, which take photons (from direct light) and converts it into electricity, which is able to be used once it goes through metal conductors and into an inverter. Unlike most other energy sources these systems produce no greenhouse gases once in place and will continue to function even when there’s no direct sunlight². It’s as simple as that! To put the cherry on top of this wonderful renewable cupcake, almost any building has the potential to generate solar energy, even small communities.
Now imagine how feasible it is to harness energy from the sun, and then bear in mind the sheer ingenuity that we have and the innovations that have happened over the past 50 years. Some of the biggest and most exciting innovations today are in the field of renewable energy, specifically in the field of solar energy. Scientists and engineers are working on almost everything, from thinner and transparent solar panels to a solar-powered desalination process for water. Even very recently the Solar Impulse 2, a plane covered and powered completely by over 17,000 solar cells, completed an around-the-world trip³ - showing the greatest capacity for solar energy.
Of course there are obstacles; unfortunate cuts to funding for solar projects combined with the lobbying power and presence of multinational fossil fuel companies are slowing down the process. Yet one can easily see that the renewable energy revolution is coming, and the sun is only just beginning to rise.
¹ Ring, James W. "Windows, Baths, and Solar Energy in the Roman Empire." American Journal of Archaeology 100.4 (1996): 717-24. Web.