Solar Power History

Solar power technologies were first developed in the 1860s when industrialists feared that coal supply would become limited.

Solar power technology and development came to a halt in the earlier half of the twentieth century with the mass expansion of the motor car industry and the increased supply of petroleum and coal.

The development and expansion of the motor car industry led to a lack of interest and funding for renewable energy technologies that lasted for a number of decades. By 1974 there were only around six homes in the United States that were fully run by solar power systems.

Luckily, a number of oil shortage crises in the 1970s led to an international re-evaluation of energy policies, leading to a renewed focus on solar-powered technology. Subsequently, a number of government funded incentive programs for the incorporation of domestic and commercial solar power emerged around the world.

In the following decade the amount of solar power installations rose swiftly, checked only by falling oil prices between 1984 and 1996. Since the late 90s solar PV installations have increased exponentially and the technology has improved, making solar panels more efficient and functional. This has been due to the rising costs and shortages of fossil fuels, increased concern and evidence of climate change, and the economic expansion of the solar power industry.

Solar Power Technology

There are two main branches of solar power technology: Photovoltaics (PV), and Concentrated Solar Power (CSP).

Photovoltaic (PV) solar power technologies convert solar radiation into DC electricity using the photovoltaic effect. Photovoltaic solar panels are composed of solar cells that contain PV material.

Solar PV panels convert sunlight into electricity without any fuels or emissions. Because of the lack of moving parts in the panels, there is very little maintenance required during the operating life of the modules, which generally last between 25 to 40 years.

Due to technological advances and innovation in solar panel production methods, the cost of solar PV technology has been gradually decreasing as the global solar power market expands.

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) systems are used globally due to their popularity in commercial installations. CSP systems use a series of mirrors, lenses and solar tracking technologies to condense a broad area of light into a much smaller, concentrated beam of solar radiation. The concentrated solar radiation produces electricity when it is converted to heat and run through a heat engine linked to an electricity generator.

The Future of Solar Power

The future of solar power technology, development and installation has enormous potential. Global trends suggest that solar power systems are becoming a key player in international energy production.

  • The European Union has set a Renewable Energy Target of 20% by 2020, of which the European Photovoltaic Industry Association estimates that PV solar could provide up to 12%.
  • Last year there were enough solar PV modules produced globally to provide the state of California with all of its energy requirements.
  • In the past thirty years annual solar photovoltaic system installations have increased from 21 megawatts to 32000 megawatts.
  • Solar photovoltaic system manufacturing has seen an average of 40% annual growth since 2000.
  • Hundreds of jobs are created in the solar power industry every year for every ten megawatts of solar energy produced
  • Solar cell production creates 90% less environmentally harmful emissions than oil and natural gas technologies.

The mass incorporation of solar power into the global energy market will provide clean, affordable power, and lessen the international demand for non-renewable energy sources.

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