Solar energy holds a lot of potential. Unfortunately, with the current technology that we have, it is very difficult to harvest it in large quantities.
At most our solar panels can only convert about 20% of the available solar energy, and in most cases that amount is closer to 15%. As solar panels age, their ability to convert energy only degrades.
That combined with the costs of solar panels, means that it is unlikely for them to take “center stage” in meeting our global energy needs anytime soon. However, we are seeing solar energy used more and more in small ways that can make a big impact.
One of the biggest areas of solar research right now is for warfare. Right now, fuel hungry generators have to be trucked across the desert along with expensive fuel supplies. Creating a base camp that runs on solar energy offers the potential for a smaller setup with fewer dangerous resupply trips required.
Some of that technology is trickling down to the average consumer. Solar battery chargers are now only slightly more expensive than a regular charger for a cell phone or mp3 player would be. These small chargers can power a variety of instruments and are easily packed to remote locations.
Additionally we are seeing solar energy being used in yard objects. Solar powered lights and fountains means easy-to-install yard improvements that don’t need an electrician’s training. Solar pool covers are a great example of this. The just sit on top of your pool and use the suns heat to passively warm the water – no electricity required! They’ve become so popular that it is rather simple to find discount solar pool covers from major vendors on the Internet.
Its doubtful that solar energy will ever eclipse some of the other energy forms out there. However, it offers great potential for little areas where traditional power is inconvenient to use.