which in turn power life across the Earth. Thanks to technology though, the sun can also power all our energy needs. Solar power uses the natural energy of the sun to produce electricity and as such it is both sustainable and renewable. But what else should we know about solar energy?
China is the world’s leading solar producer and seeks to triple its capacity by 2020.
This move to harness renewable energy was partly prompted by the fact that China’s air pollution makes it almost impossible for citizens to breathe in cities like Shanghai and Beijing¹.
Solar power is increasingly affordable.
The cost of solar panels has dropped by 80% since 2008, and it is expected to keep falling. As solar power itself is a free source of energy, once you’ve installed solar panels on your home, maintenance is minimal. It takes the average homeowner 7 to 15 years to pay off their solar panels (this is reduced to 2 years in sunnier climates), so given that most solar panels have a warranty of 25 years, investing in solar power seems to be a sensible option¹,².
Investing in solar energy is not only good for your finances, but also good for the environment.
American inventor Charles Fritts created the first solar cell, made of selenium on a backing of gold in 1883.
The solar cell was only 1% efficient, partly due to the selenium itself so it wasn’t strong enough to produce any useful power. However, this laid the stage for advances in the decades to follow³.
Less than a century later, in 1954, the first commercially-viable photovoltaic solar cell was invented.
This solar cell used silicon, an element not used previously for this purpose. Because of the use of silicon, this solar cell was able to produce more power than any design before it. This cell was 4% efficient compared to today’s typical solar panel that is 18% efficient³.
Solar energy can be converted to solar power in two ways.
The first is direct or photovoltaic which is done through solar panels and the generated power is used for electricity. The second is called indirect or solar thermal and involves solar thermal collectors and the power generated is used for heating.
California is home to the largest solar power plant in the world, located in the Mojave Desert.
It spans 1,000 acres. It is therefore unsurprising that California also dominates the US solar power market, with a market share of 44% in 2015¹.
Beyond the important financial and environmental advantages of solar energy, the sector is growing and employing an increasing number of people.
For example, more than 200,000 Americans currently work in the solar power industry. That number is expected to rise to 420,000 by 2020¹.
Beyond electricity and heating, solar energy can also be used for making potable, brackish or saline water.
Without using electricity or chemicals, waste water can be treated. This is very important for many regions of the world that don’t have access to clean water.