Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Solar-Powered World

Professor Seamus Curran of the University of Houston believes that the world, and in particular the United States, will see increasing use of solar energy, especially to power locations not directly on "the grid".  He especially envisions thin solar film that can be applied to many exterior surfaces.

I also think solar power use will expand.  The efficiency of solar electricity generation has made incredible advances since the first solar cell's initial 4% efficiency (later improved to 11%, which just begins to demonstrate the point).  Vanguard 1, launched in 1958, used solar cells to power its radio. Those early solar cells lasted about 7 years, while conventional batteries on board lasted less than 3 weeks.
Picture from Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
In the 1970s, solar power began to be used for warning signals on oil and gas rigs, lighthouses, and railroad crossings in remote locations.  In 1981, the Solar Challenger, a solar-powered  aircraft that, at 336 lbs, was a little too heavy to fit the US "Ultralight" Classification of 253 lbs, flew across the English Channel.  In December 1982 to January 1983, the Quiet Achiever used solar power to drive all the way across Australia.  In 1998, Subhendu Guha led a team to create the "Solar Shingle", an integrated strip that looks much like traditional roofing materials, and only requires a small hole every 7 feet so the wires from the shingle can be fed into the building.  In the best capitalist traditions of the US, Guha's United Solar Systems developed a better solution- for profit.

Zephyr Solar UAV picture from

This Department of Energy timeline provides a good bit of interesting detail, if you enjoy the topic.

I recently tested  2 solar-charged LED lanterns from d.light.  One of them proved to be defective, but the other was inexpensive (less than $15), provides excellent light output, and seems quite sturdy.  d.light has already responded, in well under a week, to my request for a replacement unit for the defective one, and sent  a video describing improved products, with an even better warranty, that should be rolled out within 2 months.  Stay tuned.

d.light S1 Solar LED Lantern


Old NFO said...

Got one ordered, thanks JR!

J.R.Shirley said...

Yeah, an S1 is definitely going camping with me. :-)