The Becquerel Effect
It began 176 years ago when Alexandre Becquerel, a French physicist at age 19, was experimenting in his father’s laboratory. He created the first photovoltaic cell: silver chloride in an acidic solution was connected to platinum electrodes and then illuminated which generated voltage and current. Having discovered the photovoltaic effect, it has also been known as the “Becquerel Effect”. In other news, his son discovered radiation so we owe almost all of our renewable energy today to the 1800s in France.
Solar energy was really expensive in 1955 when Western Electric solar cells were going for $1,785/watt. That would be like paying $10.7 million dollars for a 6 kW (kilowatt) array typical of residential systems today. But wait! Those panels were only 2% efficient which means you would actually have needed 667 panels on your roof to generate the same amount of energy as today’s typical 18% efficient panels. Your investment would have been $1.2 billion dollars just to run your house. Today, solar photovoltaic panels are available for around $3-5/watt installed. That’s more than 446 times less in just 60 years. Solar panels today are also very affordable at efficiencies of 18-20%, meaning you need less of them for the same amount of energy.
That’s right, Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed the Solar Roofs Initiative in 2004. As governor, he implemented this initiative to have 1 million solar roofs in California by 2017. There have been further efforts to accomplish this more recently such as the California Solar Initiative (CSI) which was implemented in 2006. This $2.8 billion dollar programme provides incentives for solar development for over 11 years. The programme ran out of funds for California Solar Rebates in 2013 but is still providing services facilitating solar projects today.
The Vatican & The White House
Both have solar projects in order to become sustainable. In 2003, George Bush had a 9 kW photovoltaic system along with a solar thermal system installed on the grounds keeping building at the White House. Alternately, in 2010, Barack Obama ordered the installation of additional solar panels and a solar water heater for the White House which were installed 3 years later. The Vatican announced in 2007 that they would install solar panels on some buildings in order to conserve Earth’s resources.
3D Solar Panels
It’s a thing. Dr. Changwan Son, Director of Technology for Solar3D, says, “When measured relative to a conventional solar cell design, our working prototype produces electricity beyond our previous expectations…at least 2.5 times the amount of electricity [as the control cell].” This makes 3D solar panels at lease 250% more efficient than regular silicon basic solar cells.
You’re using solar power right now
If you live in California, you’re getting solar power from Ivanpah in California’s Mojave Desert. 50 miles northwest of Needles and about 5 miles from the border of Nevada, the facility is comprised of 3 separate plants and uses solar thermal technology. It uses mirrors to direct light to the top of a tower which boils water and produces steam to turn a turbine, very similar to the way aircraft carriers were propelled in WWII.
India is greener
The largest photovoltaic power station is currently located in India and has a capacity of 600 megawatts. For those of you thinking in terms of 100 watt light bulbs, that’s 6 million of them. Don’t feel too left out, California comes in next at 579 megawatts from the Solar Star project which was connected to the grid on June 19, 2015. So India isn’t necessarily greener but they do have the largest system to date.