The Sun makes life on Earth viable and, from the beginning of time, it has provided us with illumination and warmth. A little over a century ago, we were able to harness its energy to convert it into one of our most precious assets, electricity.
How do we generate electricity from solar radiation?
There are several technologies that allow electricity to be extracted from solar radiation. One of these is the photovoltaic effect, which directly transforms sunlight into electricity. By using photovoltaic panels composed of several silicon cells, an electric current is generated when photons of sunlight fall on them. The current that is produced is direct and, in order to use it properly, it is necessary to convert it using an inverter into alternating current.
Initially, photovoltaic energy was applied in the aerospace sector and it was in the middle of the 20th century when technological and regulatory advances positioned it as a real alternative to conventional electricity generation. Today it is one of the most widespread and cheapest renewable generation sources thanks to the low cost of the panels.
In Spain we have the largest solar resource of all the countries in Europe as well as a sufficient and appropriate amount of land to develop new projects. In Spain, we are projected to reach 37 GW of installed photovoltaic capacity by 2030, which is four times the current capacity.
What are the benefits of photovoltaic energy?
It is an inexhaustible source of energy, of free fuel, it does not pollute and contributes to sustainable development favouring employability in sparsely populated areas where due to their climate they enjoy many hours of sunshine a year. In addition, the initial investment in this type of plant has been significantly reduced in recent years, with low operating and maintenance costs.
Another advantage of this technology is its modularity. It is possible to build huge photovoltaic plants or small panels for self-consumption, even in remote locations where the electricity networks do not reach.
To demonstrate the benefits of this energy, we went to Bangladesh. There, with the arrival of the monsoons, a third of the country is flooded causing the rivers to overflow and leaving thousands of children unable to go to their schools. To try to minimize the impact of these weather phenomena, the architect Mohammed Rezwan had the great idea of creating school ships.
Rezwan founded the NGO Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, with a simple idea, “if the children can’t go to the school, the school can go to the children”. Each boat is equipped with solar panels that supply electricity to these schools, which act as a bus and classroom at the same time. The lights, computers, internet access and even printers work thanks to the photovoltaic panels installed on their roofs.
The idea of photovoltaic floating boats has spread and now floating clinics have been set up, which travel along the rivers and allow the inhabitants to receive their treatments and medical check-ups on time.
But they don’t just use solar panels, the NGO has developed its own solar lantern from recycled parts of kerosene lamps. These lanterns, equipped with a 5-watt bulb, are an effective way of bringing light to the most disadvantaged families so that their children can be educated and their parents can carry out handicrafts.
– Written by Marta Hernando y Paula Mateos –