A Curious Tale About Solar Panels

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A Curious Tale About Solar Panels

THE SEPTEMBER 2006 PROBLEM OF SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN was devoted to checking out the future of energy beyond the carbon era. The editors share a sobering outlook: ‘Decades might pass before hydrogen-powered trucks and automobiles delegate gasoline-and diesel-fueled cars to antique auto shows.’ Up until that takes place, we’ll ‘muddle-through’ in some way. (Scientific American: 3).

However why does it take so long for some energy technologies to get from the lab and industrial applications to the service of consumers? Take photovoltaic panels, for example.

A high-street electronic devices chain in London now sells academic solar-power kits for around the ₤ 20 mark. Major, roof-dwelling photovoltaic panels that will power equipment in your house sell in Do It Yourself warehouse stores at around ₤ 2,500. That’s a price-tag for the wealthy or very dedicated, but at least customers can press their trolleys past the innovation.

SOLAR PANELS HAVE ONLY RECENTLY APPEARED on the shelves of retail outlets, so you ‘d forgive them for posing as brand-new innovation. However they’re not. While England was priming itself for exactly what was to become its most famous World Cup, a contributor to the July 1966 edition of Wireless World dealt with a copy deadline for the publication. His name was D. Bollen, and he provided a circuit for a solar-powered battery charger.

As he put it: ‘The capability of solar cells to convert sunshine directly into useful electrical energy has actually been well shown in satellite applications. A benefit of the solar battery is that is allows real, ignored operation in places remote from a power supply and … guarantees an outstanding degree of reliability.’ (Wireless World: 343).

Over 4 meticulously-illustrated pages, Bollen goes on to offer a blueprint for a circuit that will trickle-charge a battery from a solar battery. Bollen shows that you can run something that uses one milliamp of existing for ‘2.74 hours’ in a 24 Hr period. He leaves us thinking exactly what application he wanted for this small mainstream, but the rig could also have powered the bulb of a toy torch for a few seconds a day.

Still, the circuit exists and the date is mid-1966. Do not be distracted by Bollen’s talk of ‘satellite applications’. His circuit is a million miles from rocket-science– in truth it’s the simplest of the bunch in this edition of a magazine that was pitched at everybody in between newbie manufacturer and electronic devices expert.

Someone with hardly any experience might have tossed a demo version of this circuit together in fifteen minutes flat. And all the parts were available from specialist providers in London and south-east England.

The listed provider for ‘various selenium and silicon cells’ is International Rectifier. I called the company to find out just how much a comparable solar-cell expense at the time Bollen wrote his function.

A single cell measuring about a centimetre by two centimetres cost four dollars, right up to 1966. In his function, Bollen describes numerous mixes in between one cell and four, so the most pricey part of his circuit expense in between 4 and 16 dollars, or about -100 dollars in today’s cash.
World’s first solar-powered automobile: 1912.

However exactly what returned from International Rectifier (IR) showed much more intriguing than rate details. It ends up that the company had actually shown the world’s very first solar-powered vehicle – a 1912 design of the Baker Electric – as early as 1958. They attained the stunt by making a high-output photovoltaic panel – less than 2 metres long and simply over a metre wide – from an entire bank of little solar cells.

Commercial, industrial and military consumers went on to buy photovoltaic panels from International Rectifier.

SO WHY HAS IT TAKEN VIRTUALLY FIFTY YEARS for solar panels to reach our stores?

Southface, a non-profit, sustainable-living organisation based in the U.S.A, mention that solar-cell technology has actually had actually been uselessly competing versus the relative fall in cost that took place in the fossil-fuel market in the nineties.

But Southface believe that major orders of consumer solar cell units in nations such as Japan might lastly indicate the start of an age when solar battery production will gain from economies of scale.

I hope so. In the meantime, it’s anyone’s guess for how long will it take for the consumer-led innovation transformation to swat our energy issues.
© Alistair Siddons, 2006.

Category: Product Reviews
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