The ever-growing improvements in solar power technology

Solar power technology has come a long way since its first arrival in the 1950s, when solar panels were over three times the size they are now, yet converted just 4.5% of solar energy into electricity. Sixty years ago solar panels needed to be far larger to be as powerful and were unthinkably expensive. For example, a 230 Watt solar panel in 1953 measured 213 inches by 130 inches and cost a whopping $1785 per Watt. Today, a solar panel with an identical wattage measures 64 inches by 39 inches and costs just $1.30 per Watt. As research and development in solar power technology increases, efficiency, cost and size can only further improve in the future.
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In 1953 the first modern solar cell, using a silicone semiconductor to convert light into electricity, was unveiled in the USA. It was revolutionary and gave rise to the belief that we will eventually be able to harness the sun’s incredible energy. Fast-forward nearly sixty years and the technology has vastly improved and is now at the stage at which solar power production and consumption is growing year on year, at half the cost of just five years ago. Why has it taken so long? Largely because the need for it wasn’t there. Fossil fuels were cheap and plentiful and so the impetus (and therefore also the finances) didn’t exist for large-scale research and development into taking solar mainstream. Funding depended on which government was in power in different countries and thus solar power R&D; was very stop-start.
Triggered by the impending energy crisis, the past 20 years saw huge improvements in technology and manufacturing methods, driving costs down and expanding the market, and each time the market for solar energy increases, costs are further reduced. Solar energy still accounts for a small percentage of the world’s energy consumption (currently just 1%) but that is tipped to change imminently. Recent advances in technology are leading the way for huge growth in the solar energy market. In 2008, spherical solar cells were developed in Japan, a technology which is up to five times cheaper, uses far less material, consumes half the energy to reproduce and has flexible applications. Residential solar panels are proving increasingly popular, with companies such as AGL Solar Energy installing them on rooftops in thousands of homes in Australia. 
In 15 years, commercial buildings will be built to make the most of solar power – indeed, the technology is already almost there to do so. Buildings will be constructed from glass coated with a network of tiny Organic Photovoltaic Cells which are so fine that light isn’t obstructed. This way, entire buildings can become energy producers. Similar technology is also being utilised to develop paint-on solar cells so that you can paint the outside of your house with solar energy-producing cells. The next 20 years will see the cost of solar come down and technologies improve. Look out for new technologies such as super-fine solar films made from cheaper CIGS (copper, indium, gallium, selenide) rather than silicone, and glass or plastic plates coated with dye which will help to focus photons onto solar panels. One thing’s for sure – the solar energy revolution has only just begun. The future is bright!