The sun is the solar system’s largest and most significant source of energy in by far, with a powerful fusion reaction continually churning out vast quantities of heat and electromagnetic radiation. While only a small portion of that energy ever reaches the earth, it remains a huge amount even relative to the power consumption needs of the entire human species. In recent years, solar panels that include arrays of photovoltaic cells have increasingly been used to capture sunlight and turn it directly into electricity. When photons of the right frequencies make their way from the sun across the emptiness of space to eventually fall upon these earthbound panels, each carries and deposits a small portion of the energy that results from the sun’s ongoing fusion reaction.
Being able to harness that energy is an undeniably impressive feat, particularly considering the way that this enables lessened usage of limited and sometimes problematic resources like fossil fuels as part of the bargain. For many years, however, solar panels were simply too expensive to produce and buy to justify their widespread deployment. Fortunately, that has changed quite a bit since, and those who read an interesting report online here will see that there are good reasons to hope for a good deal more progress on this front.
One of the lingering costs faced by solar panel manufacturers, for instance, relates to the need to incorporate a variety of relatively expensive materials into the photovoltaic cells that each contains. While some of these are only required in relatively small quantities, the tab still adds up, and these expenditures now account for a significant portion of the cost of the average solar panel. While other means of cutting prices have been pursued and enabled over the years, this particular cost center has not yet received much attention.
That is starting to change, however. As the report points out, for example, some researchers are now exploring ways by which extremely common and inexpensive materials like iron might someday be used in place of much costlier ones. Should they meet with success, being able to harness some of the sun’s energy in even more affordable fashion could well become a reality.