Solar energy: How it all began

Solar energy sunflowersLong before civilization as we know it even existed, the sun was shining. This giant sphere of glowing gases is the heart of our solar system and is by far Earth’s most valuable source of energy for life.

The sun is abundant, it is continuous and it is free. It is no wonder then, that people have become so dependent on the energy generated by this celestial phenomenon – solar energy – as an unfailing source of light and heat.

Today, with the pervasive rise in electricity costs, many people have been looking to alternative sources of energy; and the sun is beyond question one of the greatest non-taxable sources of energy out there. But how did solar energy, as we now know it, come to be?

Solar energy – or more accurately, photovoltaic (PV) energy (solar cells) – has origins going as far back as 1876, when William Grylls Adams discovered that exposing selenium to light produced electricity.

Seventy eight years later, in 1954, three Bell Laboratories researchers by the names of Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson announced the discovery of the first silicon solar cell – a finding that proved to be a watershed moment in the history of solar energy.

Although too inefficient to be of much use, early solar cells produced enough electricity to run small electrical devices. This was lauded as one of the most significant breakthroughs ever in the history of solar energy. So much so, in fact, that the 25th of April – the day Bell Laboratories demonstrated to the world how silicon solar cells could produce electricity – is to this day celebrated as the anniversary of the first practical solar cell.

On 26 April 1954 the New York Times stated on its front page that the discovery of the first silicon solar cell marked “the beginning of a new era, eventually leading to the realisation of one of mankind’s most cherished dreams – the harnessing of the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilisation”.

From then onwards, solar energy grew more extensive, and gradually became a more affordable, viable option. In 1956 solar cells were commercially available – but at a whopping $300 (about R3 800 today) per 1 watt solar cell. At this stage, solar cells were only being used in small items like toys and radios – the first items to make solar energy available to consumers.

From these humble beginnings, solar energy snowballed, with solar power becoming the standard for powering space-bound satellites in the late 1960’s.

Soon after, in the early 1970’s, new methods were discovered to reduce the price to $20 (about R260 today) per watt, and off-shore oil rigs used solar cells to power up warning lights on top of rigs.

The rest, as they say, is history. From the 1970’s to the 1990’s, there was a huge change in the use of solar cells – from powering homes in remote areas, to fuelling telecommunication towers.

Today, solar energy touches almost every part of our lives and is becoming increasingly more affordable for everyday use. We use it to power up electric gate motors, to supply power to remote housing, and even to replace old windmills, which cost a fortune to repair.

African Advantages

In Africa in particular, solar energy is a huge godsend, because so many African countries see a lot of bright sunlight throughout the year. This is especially so in the dryer, often more remote areas, meaning solar power has the potential to bring energy to virtually any location in Africa.

In terms of the distribution of solar resources across Africa, more than 85% of the continent’s landscape gets at least 2 000 kWh/(m² year).

South Africa alone is expected to reach an installed capacity of 8 400 MW by 2030, along with 8 400 MW of wind power. The amount of exposure South Africa gets to the sun’s rays by far exceeds the average values in Europe, Russia, and most of North America.

It is this great advantage that allows pbElectrical – a division of PBSA – to seize the vast opportunities our geography affords us, and to offer a range of reliable and affordable solar power products.

Solar Borehole Water Pumps

Because solar water pumps have no running costs, our solar borehole water pumps are the most cost effective way to pump water on farms.

Being a proud agent for the renowned Pumpman™ Solar Water Pump range, pbElectrical caters for all your water needs, offering a range of pumps that will pump water at different depths. Pumpman pumps are built to withstand even the harshest local weather and water conditions.

Curious to know how solar borehole water pumps work? It all starts with solar panels, which are made up of PV cells. These cells convert sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity throughout the day when the sun shines.

The brains of the system – the control box – is what makes everything work. This includes the monitoring of water levels in the well and water tank, as well as switching the pump on and off, ensuring the pump only pumps water when needed.

Finally, there is the water pump. This submersible pump goes into the borehole and pumps water to the water tank. The type of system you install will depend on factors such as how much water you need, the ground level, water level, etc.

About pbElectrical

pbElectrical provides electrical contracting services and products, as well as a range of add-on services, to corporates and small and medium-sized enterprises.

The division offers existing PBSA customers complementary turnkey solutions, as well as offering new clients holistic electrical and related products and services, backed by a certified ISO 9001 quality management system.

Contact:

Website: http://www.pbsa.co.za/pbelec.php

Office: 011 516 9416

Mobile: 083 462 6518 (Helgard Joubert)

Email: helgardj@pbsa.co.za