Solar energy has existed as long as the sun has existed, but man’s ability to harness and use this power is more recent. Early man discovered in 7 B.C. that the power of the sun could be used to start fires. This discovery led to more searching into the mysterious bright orb and what its amazing heat could do. Archimedes found he could use the reflective surfaces of bronze shields to burn wood with the sun’s power and used this ability against the ships that were attempting to invade Syracuse. As early as 500 AD private homes began adding sunrooms to take advantage of the warm and healthy rays the sun emits.
Today, technology has provided sophisticated methods of harnessing the energy of the sun to produce electricity that runs businesses and warms homes. Solar cells can directly convert the sun’s energy into electricity. On a small scale, a tiny solar cell runs a calculator by simply being placed in the sun. On a larger scale, huge solar panels cover the roof of a commercial building and supply its electricity needs.
Solar panels absorb the sun’s electromagnetic radiation, which is converted to electricity. The rapid and forced movement of electrons in one direction creates DC current. The solar panel sends the current to an inverter, which changes the DC into AC current for use in a home or business. It is believed that the energy the sun produces in a single hour is more than all the energy used by civilization since the earth came into being. As technology continues to develop, more of the sun’s energy can be harnessed to meet future energy needs.
Recent solar innovations include rooftop solar water heaters. These simple solar collectors do not convert solar energy to electricity. Rooftop solar collectors are inexpensive and able to produce much needed hot water. The low cost of the solar collectors is making it possible to provide hot water to small Chinese villages, which have no access to electricity. Germany and Austria are beginning to see the growing use and popularity of solar rooftop collectors. As the expansion of this technology continues, there is excitement at the possibility that millions of people in developing countries will soon have access to affordable hot water.
It’s possible to imagine rooftop solar panels becoming mandatory on all new construction in many countries. Presently, Hawaii has mandated the solar collectors for new single-family dwellings. As the technology continues to advance, other states, provinces, and countries are expected to adopt regulations relating to solar collectors for new construction.
As solar panels and collectors continue to become more affordable, they bring a powerful source of sustainable energy to the world’s people. Early man knew there was something amazing about the sun, and they harnessed its energy in primitive ways. Today, we have the technology and the science to harness the sun’s energy in a much greater way, but there are more advancements and discoveries to be made in the not too distant future.