Photovoltaic Solar Panels
Owing to advancements in technology and increased production capabilities the light emitted from the sun is now easily harnessed and converted into energy via photovoltaic solar panels. The sun's light energy is converted from a form of radiation into direct current electricity. While this type of renewable energy is cost-effective and readily available, as well as being in use in over one hundred countries it accounts for only a small percent of the total power generated globally. There are many different applications in which solar power can be utilized, performance of light-capturing cells can be optimized, and the advantages and disadvantages are easily weighed against each other in favor of utilizing this form of energy. As the demand for this technology grows, so does the response from manufacturers to meet these requests.
The many applications for solar power are ever-expanding to cover more and more of the services that once depended on cable-fed conventional sources. Europe has seen the exploding trend of power plants being built that create power solely from the energy from our sun. Buildings all over the world are being designed to incorporate some form of light-energy production; designers are even retro-fitting pre-existing structures to utilize this growing technology. Building-integrated photovoltaics is a term coined in recent years to define such melding of the new and the old. Photovoltaic solar panels are being used to cover walls, windows and roofs to gather as much light as possible.
The automotive industry has seen the emergence of hybrid vehicles, designs that supplement the mechanics of internal combustion with solar power. While self-contained light-charged vehicles would have a limited range of function, the addition of such technology alongside the existing system has been demonstrated to increase gas mileage and vehicle longevity.
Ongoing cutting edge research at NASA is testing the ability of light to act as a propulsion system. It has been proven in laboratory tests that light from the sun does in fact have the potential to move objects if they are endowed with the correct form of solar-sail. The present generation may very well see the introduction of satellites and reconnaissance vehicles that are driven completely by their ability to absorb light energy via photovoltaic solar panels. This would result in a renewable and highly inexpensive propulsion system for space exploration.
The advantages of light-energy are many while the disadvantages are few. The sun provides 89,000 TW of sunlight and humans use a total of 15 TW. This means that if properly distributed to take full advantage of the sun's powerful radiation solar power could completely alleviate the burden of operating conventional power sources.
The use of photovoltaic solar panels is becoming commonplace and the costs associated with assembling and operating them is rapidly decreasing. In a matter of months or years the system would completely pay for itself in savings as operating costs are little to nothing compared with existing power supply sources. We see long-term success stories through the examples of remote island communities, ocean-going vessels, and satellites. Further advances in technology and the understanding of the sciences behind light-energy will continue to improve this growing solution.