When most people think of solar energy most likely they think of the ubiquitous black panels that have appeared mounted on the roofs of many dwellings and commercial buildings in urban areas recently. But if we stop and think for a moment, this little black strip has been with us for a lot longer, think of your Casio desk top calculator. They came standard with light sensitive panels that would recharge the little battery.
Initially perhaps the shift to solar power was driven by the increasing cost of national grid electricity but the high cost of manufacture meant it was not an option for the everyday home owner. As technology improved and manufacturing costs fell, solar panels entered the mainstream market for people trying to cut ties to their energy provider and power bills at the same time.
But cost savings were not the only driving factor. A few years ago, the world generally became more concerned with the environment as people realised the damage that was being done by conventional methods of power generation and the effect of burning fossil fuels on our health. This was another FACE or motivation for people to take up the case for solar power.
This environmental awareness has spread from the cities of developed countries and as solar cell production costs have fallen, solar energy has become a reliable and viable alternative for developing countries. This has helped slow the destruction of their environment in the search for fossil fuels as well as helped raise the standard of living, health and productivity of millions of people.
Of course, generation of electricity from the sun for domestic or commercial use is not the only possibility for solar cells. We have already mentioned the desk top calculator of the past. To bring it up to date, many smart phones now use a solar cell for recharging their battery and technology has reached the stage where many home appliances may soon be run form solar cells. It is quite conceivable that homes of the future will have appliances such as refrigerators, microwaves and washing machines whose power is derived directly for their own, independent solar cell and will not need to be plugged into a wall socket.
Stepping outside the household for a moment, other opportunities for solar cells are apparent. Many restaurants, hospitals and hotels have an axillary back up power supply, currently this is diesel powered, dirty, messy and smell,y but advances in solar technology could soon see diesel generators going the way of the Dodo.
Already many local bodies use solar cells to power street lights, warning signs, speed cameras and other monitoring equipment. Remote locations also benefit from solar energy, as do lighthouses and other emergency beacons.
So, solar cells are not just the power behind those black panels you see mounted on your neighbours roof, solar cells wear a number of multiple hats.
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