The photovoltaic effect was first observed by the French Alexandre-Edmond Bequerel in 1839. The first bigger applications of photovoltaics were to power satellites (first satellite with solar cells "Vanguard 1, 1958) and other spacecrafts. The space industry was the first driver of progress of this technology, before it became in the 70ies, (oil crisis and stronger environmental consciousness) widely used.
Germany, without the way better conditions for solar energy than we have here in Western Australia, is by far the world leader in installed capacity. The reasons for that lay in the awareness of the German society and politicians. The politically interested generation in the late 70's, when cold war fear lead to a strong anti -nuclear movement (birth of a strong green party) where a substantial and awake part of society and several activists of the 70s and 80s became the politicians of the 90s and beyond. The nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986 made very obvious, that the costs and risks of nuclear power plants are way to high. Germany decided to move away from nuclear power and towards sustainable energy. By the end of 2011 Germany installed in cumulated total around 19 times more than Australia (source: European Photovoltaic Industry Association, epia.org). In Australia we don't live under the constant fear of failures in nuclear power plants, but we are mining and burning coal in a way that is destructive for the whole globe. CO2 emissions are a globally effective pollution, not just regionally effective.
It took the awareness of politicians and the amount of an environmentally caring population that drove the global solar industry to where it is now. So thanks to Germany and all the scientists that push forward! The prices of systems came down dramatically, the efficiency went up and we all have living proof that it could be done. There are architectural concepts and existing examples all over the world, demonstrating you can live in a house that produces more energy than it uses and houses that are independent of any grid.
And that's where the journey goes towards:
We assume that the costs of the photovoltaic systems will continue to drop. In the future there will be other, more building integrated, ways to generate energy. Hopefully there will be panels using a wider part of the lights spectrum for power generation.
Power production has to move from a centralised production (with high infrastructure costs and fragile reliability) to a decentralised power production. This gives a bigger independence and, through the use of a smarter grid, a higher reliability. We start to see now more and more systems that are still grid connected, but extend the hours of self produced electricity usage through an additional battery storage (not just in remote areas, but in suburbia too) with the potential of stabilising the grid.
But off course: what ever will come onto the market, nothing beats being less energy needy. Let's unplug all the useless standby suckers! When you buy an new appliance, buy the most energy efficient you can afford, not the cheapest. In the long term you save way more. Ideally everything but the fridge and the phone is off, when you leave the house. Unplug these phone chargers, or flick the switch on the wall – they use electricity even without a phone plugged in.
It's smarter to prevent the usage of power, then to produce in a sustainable way.
Some interesting facts and figures from europe:
We all need to stop burning coal where ever we can!
Nasa animation about climate warming:
There are exciting ideas creative minds all over the world are working on.
Let's all be open to move towards more sustainable ways of using and producing energy.
Have a look at an excample here:
Some dare to think big:
Have a look at this German scientists solution for large scale energy storage
Global energy demands are rising, while fossil fuels are decreasing.
If all the energy the world population is using would be generated by the use of uranium, the total global uranium reserves would be used up within 4 years.
In 2008 the calculated availability of years of fossil fuels (at an annual increase of energy demand of 2.2%) were: Oil 30 years, Natural Gas 38 years, Coal 65 years.
But to slow the rise of the global temperature down we need to stop using fossil fuels NOW!