It’s easy to name inventions that have changed our lives. The electric light, radio, and television are among the most notable, and the personal computer is among the most recent. It seems that each of these devices appeared suddenly, but they were actually perfected over time. With that in mind, it’s interesting to contemplate life-changing devices on the horizon.
We may eventually look back and realize that the photovoltaic panel (PV) was the life-changing invention of the present time. While solar photovoltaic panels were once only used in the space program, now they can be found almost anywhere around the world. They not only provide power for lights, they provide the energy needed to pump water for people, as well as for cattle, in locations far from power lines. Thanks to PV panels, remote villages and vacation homes can use the same electrical appliances that city-dwellers use. And now, as electric rates are increasing and reliability is an issue in some parts of the country, many grid-connected homeowners are also installing solar panels.
Some utilities have imposed a tiered-rate structure for electrical usage. While the first 300KWH per month is relatively inexpensive, electricity use in excess of 600KWH is billed at a much higher rate. A PV system can be designed to use solar power as the primary source of electricity, only using grid-supplied power when the PV system’s capacity is exceeded. Switching is automatic, and the homeowner may not even be aware that it has happened. Other sophisticated PV system components protect the batteries from over charging or over discharging, and coax the best possible performance from the system.
Fossil fuel supplies are on the decline, resulting in escalating costs to bring electricity into our homes, but there are other factors that are beginning to make PV systems more appealing to the average household. Newer consumer electrical devices require less power than their older counterparts, making it possible to get by with a smaller PV system. From light-bulbs to major appliances, it’s rare to find an increase in electrical consumption in a newer device. The exception to this rule is the plug-in-electric vehicle. If these become popular in the future, we’ll need sufficient capacity to charge them. Still, the cost of PV panels is expected to decline sharply within the next two years, further increasing their popularity.
The PV panel is not like other life-changing inventions, it simply provides power for them. And, unlike other life-changing inventions, we usually keep solar panels out of sight, rather than on display. As we transition to PV systems, our lives may not have been altered per-se, but without PV all of our electrical devices will be useless, or to costly to use.
President Bush said recently “we’re addicted to oil.” The truth is, were addicted not to oil, but to our cars. By the same token we’re not addicted to electricity, but rather to our lights, radios, TV’s, microwave ovens, dishwashers, and other appliances. And it’s hard to imagine how tradesmen would perform without their power tools and equipment. Because a transition to PV will be gradual, we may not recognize it as a life-changing invention until when we think of what life would be like without it.