Solar paneled roofs and devices are all around us. Their presence in society increased in conjunction with environmental consciousness. Solar power is a renewable alternative to the greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels affecting the atmosphere and the climate.
Nonrenewable energy sources, like oil, natural gas, and coal, pollute the environment and trap heat in the upper layers of Earth’s atmosphere. As heat remains in the atmosphere for an extended period, the global temperature rises. This increase impacts consistent weather patterns across the planet, otherwise known as climate change.
To challenge these adverse effects on the environment, renewable energy stepped up to the plate. Solar power is now the most popular form of renewable energy. To better understand how these systems can reduce the effects of climate change, we must first evaluate its roots.
First Signs of Solar
Humans have utilized solar energy for centuries. Historians discovered records from the 7th century B.C. of civilians using magnifying glasses to convert the sun’s energy into fire. Solar energy use then left the history books for a while before making a significant comeback in the 17th century.
An essential scientific finding arose in 1839 by Andre Edmond Becquerel. He discovered solar photovoltaics when experimenting with metal electrolytes and electrodes. This showed the scientific community that the transformation of sunlight to electricity was possible.
Again, society placed this energy finding on the back burner for about 50 years. In 1887 physicist Heinrich Hertz discovered the photoelectric effect, the next step in developing modern solar panels.
The Photoelectric Effect
Hertz’s discovery explained the ejection of electrons from metal surfaces under certain light conditions. Consequently, the scientific community widely accepted this finding as a way for light to travel through continuous electromagnetic waves.
The theory was established and settled until the discovery of photons furthered its explanation. Albert Einstein challenged Hertz’s theory, taking us a step closer to the development of solar panels. Einstein found that light moves in various ways rather than in one continuous wave.
He explained that light is composed of many moving parts that do resemble a singular motion from a distance. But upon closer evaluation, one can view the shifting particles we now know as photons. Einstein was able to uncover the mathematical relationship between the wave motion and photons, which provided innovators the knowledge to build modern solar panels.
Solar Panel Development
In 1941, the first commercial solar panels reached the market, revolutionizing renewable energy consumption. Scientist Russell Ohl developed this technology utilizing silicon solar cells. Implementing silicon in the renewable system increased conversion efficiencies from 1% to 6% in direct sunlight.
Ohl paved the path for further enhancements to the system. Some 40 years later, solar panels reached 20% efficiency. And the advancements did not stop there.
Solar Panels Today
The modern photovoltaic (PV) cell panels engage in unique functions to maximize energy transformation. Panels allow sunlight particles to divide electrons from atoms, allowing for a flow of electricity. Furthermore, solar system owners can utilize this energy to fuel their entire home, device, or even their electric cars.
Today, the U.S. is home to over two million solar panel sites. This is due to the various benefits renewable energy offers homeowners and businesses. Solar energy is becoming increasingly cost-efficient to purchase and install.
One homeowner saved $14,500 on their renewable power source purchase through state and federal tax rewards. In addition, the government has evaluated the national benefits of these systems and continues to compensate customers. Sourcing solar energy for your home can also cut your electricity bill back to nearly zero.
Solar Throughout the Years
Since Einstein’s and Ohl’s solar discoveries, history saw remarkable scientific advancements involving renewable energy sourcing. NASA incorporated solar panels on the 1958 satellite, Vanguard. This allowed for a continuous stream of information between space and Earth, unlike the battery-operated Sputnik satellite.
A more recent panel invention is portable solar chargers. This small power pack harnesses the energy needed to charge smartphones and other small devices. It benefits outdoor adventurers who rely on powered devices for safety during extended trips.
In Japan, renewable energy reached the automobile industry. Toyota installed solar cells on Prius Prime roofs to allow for a further reduction of environmental impact by the transportation sector. In fact, the sun’s energy can add 3.7 miles to the car’s daily driving range.
Mainstream media reminds us of the environmental degradation occurring every day. For instance, Sea levels are rising, hurricanes are intensifying, and forest fires occur more frequently, forcing us to evaluate solutions. Therefore, solar energy is a viable resource for the reduction of our negative impacts on the planet.
Renewable energy advancements happen almost daily around the world. Therefore, we can expect to see a decrease in the cost of solar systems as development continues. As society normalizes green energy use, solar panels and similar devices will become more accessible to mainstream society.
Jane is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co and an environmental writer covering green technology, sustainability and environmental news.