Solar Power

The Solar Power Alternative to Carbon Based Energy

Seemingly the most abundant and daily accessible power source that we have yet to uncover, solar power, has many positives in multiple areas.

The use of a photovoltaic cells is definitely no stranger to anyone, find almost any calculator around your desk and chances are its powered from a collection of them. The problem comes in large scale, continuous power generation. The sun requires no fuels, produces no wastes, but runs on a continuous schedule that nothing can change.

With only daylight hours to allow for the collection of power it hardly seems like enough for the present worlds energy consumption. There however have been many advances to combat the shortcomings, molten salts, capacitors, larger arrays with better focus.

Basic solar power generation diagram.

Harvesting the benefits from the sun is actually one of the oldest sources still in use. In Greece and Rome, houses were built facing south because during the winter the rays from the sun would help heat the buildings, reducing the amount of wood that would have to be stockpiled. This form of passive use of the sun has been in use since around 400 BC, but the Romans' took it even farther by developing the use of clear glass to allow light to come in, and trap the heat generated by the light. This would be the precursor to the water heating plants we have today as in the 18th century scientists used boxes with a glass side and water in it to measure how much energy could be obtained using a trap like method, actually making the water boil. This further led in the same century the development of large water tanks painted black and angled towards the suns direction to heat. In 1909 this process was made more efficient by separating the heating area of the system and the storage tank volume of the system, preventing the same volume of water to be cooled down out in the night air while the sun wasn't showing. Water heaters of this improved design are being used today in countries like Australia.

But Solar panels for electricity got its start in the later 1800's when telegraph wires were being made with selenium. It was found that when selenium wire was exposed to light that the resistance and signal would be completely altered. In 1873, Willoughby Smith discovered that selenium produced an electric current when light was applied to it, continuing to develop this idea further discovering in the next few years a photo voltaic cell using selenium and platinum. Based on many theories laid out in the 20th century by Albert Einstein, the first silicon based solar cells were created in the 1940's. These would be used for such applications as power sources for satellites and space equipment and cars.

In something more specific, the Incans are credited with producing the first "lasers" using large golden discs to focus beams of light enough to disintegrate stone to cut smooth blocks and edges before the European explorers even arrived. Accounts by some of the conquistadors placed some of the larger golden discs at ~10 feet in diameter.


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