The importance of solar energy is growing as society becomes more aware of the challenges that are facing our planet.
But did you know that there is more to solar power than just being a green source of energy?
These are the facts about solar energy you need to know to help you sound smart around the braai.
Bet You Did Know This About Solar Energy
- Bell Laboratories in New Jersey created the first economically viable solar cell in 1954.
- Solar energy was already used to provide power aboard spacecraft in the 1950s. The Vanguard 1 was the first artificial Earth satellite powered by solar cells.
It is still in orbit, after being launched in 1958, and has travelled over six billion miles.
- One hour of sunlight can provide a year’s worth of energy to the planet.
- Solar energy is not only cheaper than fossil fuels, but it does not cause pollution.
- China is the world leader in solar energy generation, while sunny California leads the USA.
- Humans are not the only ones who make use of solar power. Plants convert solar energy into chemical energy in order for photosynthesis to take place.
- Using solar power saves up to 35 tons of carbon dioxide and 74 million barrels of oil per year.
- Using solar power, and therefore living cleaner, can be as simple as hanging out your clothes to dry instead of using a tumble drier.
- Solar power is considered a solution to the Greenhouse Effect which is caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
- Solar panels can keep functioning through periods of time when they are not in direct sunlight.
Solar panels still work on cloudy days – in much the same way you can still get sunburn on a cloudy day.
|Solar energy in numbers|
99% How much the price of solar panels has dropped since 1977.
173 000 terrawattsThe amount of solar energy that strikes the Earth continuously. That is over 10 000 times the world’s total energy use.
40+ years How long a solar power plant can last.
Less than 10 minutesThe amount of time it takes sunlight to travel to the Earth.
30%The amount of incoming solar radiation that is reflected from the upper atmosphere back to space.
10 yearsWhile it might be on the expensive side to install a solar system, they will have paid for themselves in this amount of time.
Around 495 000 square kilometresThe number of solar panels that would be needed to power the whole planet with solar energy.
200The number of homes that 1MW of solar energy can power.
20%The average percentage of sunlight received by solar cells that is converted into electricity. This is referred to as a 20% efficiency rate.
30 yearsThe amount of time it would take a single solar panel-powered home to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 100 tons.
80%How much the price of solar panels has reduced since 2008. As more research is done solar panel prices are continuing to drop while solar panel efficiency is increasing.
35-40 yearsThe lifespan of solar panels. This means that you will likely only need to install a solar panel system once in your adult life.
- The International Space Station is completely solar-powered.
- Solar panels require little to no maintenance. They have the added bonus of not being noisy.
- The Panda Power Plant in Datong, China, was designed to resemble a giant panda when viewed from the sky.
- A French scientist named Edmond Becquerel first discovered the photovoltaic effect in 1893.
He noticed electricity generation from an electrolytic cell increased after exposure to light.
- In 2016 Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard successfully flew a solar-powered plane around the world without making use of any additional power sources.
- The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is planning for the 2020 Games to be 100% powered by renewable energy.
- Apart from your solar panels, a home solar system also includes an inverter, a battery, a charge regulator, wiring and support materials.
The solar panels absorb the sunlight, the rest of the system converts it into electricity and the battery stores electricity for use, for example, at night when there is no sun.
- The Las Vegas city government is powered completely by renewable energy. The majority of this is solar power.
- Solar energy has been used as far back as 700BC, when magnifying the sun’s rays through a glass lens was a technique used for making fire.
- It is possible to apply solar technology to paint, and it has even been woven into fabric.
|Top five largest solar power plants in the world|
Bhadla Solar Park, IndiaLocated in a solar-friendly sunny climate, this is the largest solar plant in the world, spanning 14 000 acres (about 56㎢). It has an installed capacity of 2.25GW.
Huanghe Hydropower Hainan Solar Park, China – 2.2GWThis plant was built in five phases, and boasts an installed capacity of 2.2GW.
The facility is connected to an ultra-high voltage power line that is being built to connect the far north-western parts of the country to the more densely populated eastern provinces.
Shakti Sthala solar power project, India The 2GW Shakti Sthala solar power project in Karnataka, India, is the third-largest solar power plant in the world. It spans over 13 000 acres (about 52㎢) of land.
Benban Solar Park, Egypt The Benban Solar Park is based about 650km south of Egypt’s capital city Cairo in Benban. It is the largest solar power plant in Africa and it has a total capacity of 1.65GW.
Tengger Desert Solar Park, ChinaThis 1.55GW facility is often referred to as the ‘Great Wall of Solar’ and it covers 1,200km of the 36 700km Tengger desert.
21. The solar industry is said to create jobs five times faster than the job market. By 2017 there were more jobs relating to renewable energy than to fossil fuels.
22. A solar system at your home poses no safety risks in the form of chemical leaks, explosions or fire. These are real risks when using other energy sources.
23. Solar-powered calculators were invented in 1978.
24. Solar power is popular among Australian households, and there is more than one solar panel installed per person in Australia.
25. The installation of solar panels can increase the value of your home.
26. In The Netherlands, Heineken powers its brewing with over 16 000 solar panels.
27. The sun is expected to function as it does today for another five billion years. Therefore we don’t have to worry about running out of solar power.
28. Energy from the sun can be stored in salt.
29. Solar power is the fastest source of energy to install, making it handy in case of crises such as natural disasters.
30. Leonardo da Vinci invented a solar power system to heat water for Florence in the 1400s.
31. Even humans are solar-powered. Our bodies need the sun in order to produce vitamin D, which is vital for good health.
32. Solar panels are designed to be lightweight, and will not put unnecessary stress on your roof.
33. Air pollution poses a slight challenge for solar power. Pollutants can, to an extent, block the sun’s rays from the Earth.
34. NASA makes use of unmanned, solar-powered aerial vehicles for some of their research.
35. The process of Solar Water Disinfection is when solar water is used to convert contaminated water into drinking water.
Implementing this system has reduced the incidence of diarrhoea in developing countries.
36. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, built a 100MW solar-powered battery in Australia. It took him 100 days to build this battery that can power 30 000 homes for an hour.
It’s truly remarkable to what extent the sun influences life on Earth.
Solar power can solve many of the challenges our planet is currently facing, and it’s certainly worthwhile to look into the way it can improve your own household.