Is this the start of the solar revolution?


There’s no doubt that the world is changing at a rapid rate, and the way we harness energy is changing too. Recent advances in solar technology are giving people all over the globe new ways to live and work without a centralized power grid. With access to a renewable, flexible, and now highly accessible energy source, what will humankind achieve in the near future? 
In the last four years, solar technology has progressed in leaps and bounds, and it’s now being applied in increasingly novel ways. For example, you can now purchase a solar powered iPhone case that charges your mobile throughoutthe day. Or if you’re a racing fan, you can watch solar cars reaching up to 100km/h at the Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge.

Previously, solar panels could only be relied upon in very sunny locales near the equator. However, solar technology has become more efficient, and can now work effectively even in low-light and foggy environments. This is great news for tech-happy campers, who can now purchase a solar panel equipped tent. Even in cloudy conditions, the tent stores energy that can be used to charge mobile devices and power built-in LED lanterns.

The tent is just one of many solar-powered innovations that incorporate energy-efficient LED lighting. LED lights, which have become more affordable in recent years, can provide hours of illumination using just a small amount of stored solar power. In South Africa, solar-panel equipped schoolbags with built-in reading lights are enabling underprivileged children to study after

 

Bringing power to the developing world

Simple devices like solar-powered reading lights can make a huge difference to the lives of people in developing countries. Currently, many people who do not have electricity rely on kerosene (paraffin) lamps and stoves. Not only is kerosene costly, but it causes fires and emits dangerous fumes, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths every year.
 

With solar powered devices becoming more readily available, it is hoped that underprivileged communities will eventually be able to stop relying on kerosene. Not only will this save lives, but it will also free up money that would otherwise be spent on fuel. With reliable lighting in public areas, crime becomes less likely and communities can continue with healthcare, education, and business after dark.

With this in mind, organizations all over the world are creating initiatives to bring solar power to developing countries. Philips is joining this cause with our own Project Africa, which will install 100 community light centers in Africa by the end of 2015.

However, with a quarter of the world’s population living without electricity, there is a lot more work to be done. Thankfully, the collapsing cost of both solar and LED technology is making it available to more and more communities. In the US, solar panels are helping the Navajo community become energy independent. In Africa, it is estimated that 500 million people who are without electricity will have 200 watts of solar power each by 2030, thus lifting them out of light poverty.

Getting businesses on board

It’s not only charitable organizations that are taking advantage of solar power – the business world is paying attention too. The solar power industry is creating jobs nearly 20 times faster than the rest of the economy in the US, and even companies like Apple and Walmart are investing in solar energy.

While the US was initially slow to adopt solar power on a grand scale, other countries are beginning to embrace the technology more quickly. The UK and Germany have broken solar power records, and Germany aims to generate 100% of its energy through renewable sources by 2050.

Looking to the future

Harry Verhaar, Head of Global Public & Government Affairs at Philips Lighting, and President of the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association, commented on the possibilities for solar energy. “In the developed world, it was only three or four generations ago that our ancestors struggled with high infant mortality, lack of education, and poor healthcare. Having access to affordable electricity allowed our great-grandparents to address their most basic needs, and not long after, to make progress in communication, healthcare and entertainment.”

“We have seen the huge difference that affordable electricity can make. This should inspire us to work together in bringing Solar Energy to the developing world. With the technology available now, we could solve many of the problems that poorer nations face within one generation.”

 

In the grand scheme of things, the solar powered appliances industry is still in its infancy. But one thing is certain: the world is waking up to its potential. In the developing world, solar technology could lift some of the poorest people out of light poverty, helping them to build a better future. And in the developed world, it might enable us to reduce the environmental and financial costs of traditional power sources. Only time will tell – but here’s hoping that solar technology has a bright future.

How do you see the solar power revolution taking shape?

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