A Curious Tale About Solar Panels

Exploring the future of energy beyond the carbon era.

Why does it take so long for some energy technologies to get from the lab and industrial applications to the service of consumers? Take photovoltaic panels, for example.

A high-street electronics chain in London now offers educational solar-power kits for around the ₤ 20 mark. Serious, roof-dwelling photovoltaic panels that will power devices in your house sell in DIY superstores at around ₤ 2,500. That’s a price tag for the rich or extremely committed, however, a minimum of consumers can press their trolleys past the innovation.

SOLAR PANELS HAVE ONLY RECENTLY APPEARED on the racks of retail outlets, so you’d forgive them for posing as brand-new technology. They’re not. While England was priming itself for what was to become its most popular World Cup, a contributor to the July 1966 edition of Wireless World dealt with a copy deadline for the magazine. His name was D. Bollen, and he supplied a circuit for a solar-powered battery charger.

As he put it: ‘The capability of solar cells to transform sunshine directly into helpful electrical energy has been well shown in satellite applications. A benefit of the solar battery is that it allows real, ignored operation in areas remote from a power supply and … guarantees an exceptional degree of dependability.’ (Wireless World: 343).

Over 4 meticulously-illustrated pages, Bollen goes on to provide a plan for a circuit that will trickle-charge a battery from a solar cell. Bollen shows that you can run something that utilizes one milliamp of existing for ‘2.74 hours in a 24-hour duration. He leaves us guessing what application he had in mind for this tiny existing, but the rig could also have actually powered the bulb of a toy torch for a couple of seconds a day.

Still, the circuit exists and the date is mid-1966. Don’t be sidetracked by Bollen’s talk of ‘satellite applications. His circuit is a million miles from rocket science in truth it’s the simplest of the bunch in this edition of a publication that was pitched at everybody between newbie fabricators and electronic devices experts.

Somebody with hardly any experience could have thrown a presentation variation of this circuit together in fifteen minutes flat. And all the parts were offered from professional suppliers in London and south-east England.

The listed provider for ‘assorted selenium and silicon cells’ is International Rectifier. I called the company to discover how much a similar solar-cell expense at the time Bollen composed his feature.

A single cell determining about a centimeter by two centimeters cost four dollars, right approximately 1966. In his feature, Bollen describes various mixes in between one cell and 4, so the most expensive part of his circuit expense is between 4 and 16 dollars or about $25-100 dollars in today’s money.

World’s very first solar-powered vehicle: 1912.

However, what returned from International Rectifier (IR) proved much more interesting than price info. It ends up that the company had actually shown the world’s first solar-powered car – a 1912 design of the Baker Electric – as early as 1958. They attained the stunt by making a high-output photovoltaic panel – less than two meters long and just over a meter large – from an entire bank of little solar cells.

Commercial, industrial and military consumers went on to purchase photovoltaic panels from International Rectifier.

WHY HAS IT TAKEN ALMOST FIFTY YEARS for solar panels to reach our stores?

Southface, a non-profit, sustainable-living organization based in the USA, mentions that solar-cell technology has actually been uselessly competing against the relative fall in cost that happened in the fossil-fuel market in the nineties.

But Southface believes that major orders of customer solar cell units in countries such as Japan may finally indicate the start of a period when solar battery production will gain from economies of scale.

I hope so. In the meantime, it’s anyone’s guess how long will it take for the consumer-led innovation revolution to whack our energy problems.
© Alistair Siddons, 2006.

Serious, roof-dwelling solar panels that will power devices in your house sell in DIY superstores at around ₤ 2,500. SOLAR PANELS HAVE ONLY RECENTLY APPEARED on the racks of retail outlets, so you’d forgive them for positioning as new innovation. As he put it: ‘The ability of solar cells to convert sunlight directly into useful electrical energy has actually been well demonstrated in satellite applications. Over 4 meticulously-illustrated pages, Bollen goes on to supply a blueprint for a circuit that will trickle-charge a battery from a solar cell. They attained the stunt by making a high-output solar panel – less than 2 meters long and simply over a meter large – from an entire bank of little solar cells.

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