“What was once considered impossible is now profitable”
When you look back at the beginning of the alternative energy market, you can see that we have “come a long way, baby!”
What was once thought of as too expensive, to unreliable, and impractical has turned out to be one of our best tools against global warming.
The more we are able to wean ourselves away from dirty energy and embrace sustainable, clean energy the better chance we have of reducing global warming and stabilizing our climate. Another win-win for everyone!
Advances in solar energy
By April Sigmund
Advancements in solar energy have come a remarkably long way over the past few years, especially when you consider that humans first harnessed solar energy in 7th century B.C. by using sunlight and magnifying glass materials to light fires. Next came adaptations by the Greeks and Romans, who generated solar power with mirrors in order to light ceremonial torches. Then, Roman bathhouses and ancestors to the Pueblo Native Americans were the originators of “sunrooms”, or rooms designed to direct sunlight into one concentrated area. Much later on in the mid 1800s, solar energy plants were developed to heat water that created steam needed to drive machinery.
In 1876, William Grylls Adams and his student Richard Evans Day discovered that the element selenium could create an electrical current when exposed to light. Seven years later, an American inventor named Charles Fritts created the first solar cell by layering selenium onto a gold backing. Though this was an important advancement, the cell was relatively useless at less than 1% efficiency.
It wasn’t until over a hundred years later in 1954 when three scientists determined that replacing selenium with silicon could create a much more efficient solar cell that could actually power a device for multiple hours per day.
In 1956, the first solar modules were made commercially available but came at a heavy price. A one watt solar module cost $300, which was well over the means of most people, however solar cells were still introduced to the public when they began to be used in radios and toys sold to everyday consumers. Otherwise, throughout the 1950s and 1960s solar panels were mostly being used to power satellites in space until the early 1970s when Dr. Elliot Berman designed a cheaper solar module that reduced the price from around $100 per watt to $20 per watt. This reduction in price resulted in a widespread use of solar power all across the world, and people began installing solar panels on their homes and businesses. President Jimmy Carter even had solar panels installed on the White House.
Since 1980, the cost of solar panels has dropped by at least 10 percent every year. Purchasing a solar panel today can cost as little as $0.50 a watt, leading to an increase in demand that has lead to over a million U.S. installations in early 2016. Advancements in solar energy continue to progress at a remarkable pace. It can be used to power everything from transportation to homes to consumer electronics like cell phones and tablets, and advancements continue to happen at a rapid pace. While we have come a long way from the ancient methods of harnessing solar energy, recent advancements have made it clear that the sky is the limit on the ways we can incorporate this renewable energy source into our everyday lives.
Riding on the wind
By April Sigmund
When you think of wind turbines, you likely picture a fleet of huge steel propellers rising up from rural, rolling farm land. This idyllic setting is typical for turbines because they need strong winds and a lot of space to operate.
In the last few years however, several European companies have begun to experiment with small scale turbine designs suited for urban environments where generated wind power is most needed. Along with reducing the size of typical wind turbines, these companies are taking on the challenge of making the urban versions look more aesthetically pleasing. The ultimate goal is to one day design turbines meant for household use, which would allow homeowners to harvest and use their own wind power.
French company New Wind is one company making great strides in creating a feasible urban turbine design. Their “wind trees” contain plastic leaves that have the ability to harness wind at speeds less than five mph, coming from any direction. Most large turbines need winds over 22 mph to function. New Wind estimates that the energy these wind trees produce can meet half of the average French household’s annual energy needs, run a small office for 12 months, or charge an electric car for 10,000 miles each year. New Wind now has contracts to install their trees at several companies throughout Europe.
While this concept is still relatively new and up and coming, its progress is important as we continue searching for ways to replace fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy.