By NASA/SDO [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When we were kids we all had the experience of holding a magnifying glass up to the sun and turning paper, twigs or leaves into a small flame in only a few seconds.

It was a reminder of the awesome power of the sun’s rays and the almost unlimited source of heat and energy that it can generate. Devices to collect and harness the power of the sun have been around for decades, but only in recent years has the technology around trapping solar energy begun to leap ahead and tap more fully into that potential.

The major advances in solar panel technology are being driven by Asia, as small roof-top and backyard solar panels are generating greater power at a fraction of the cost and size of previous versions. Solar panels are now being used to power everything from hot water tanks to air conditioning units. And investments in new energy sources like solar and wind are driving major technological change.

Solar energy can and will also drive fundamental change in underdeveloped countries, where access to electricity is virtually non-existent. Villages are already using solar panels with the latest technological advances to power generators, cooking devices, hot-water systems and water purification projects.

In advanced countries meantime an important milestone in solar energy was reached in Germany.  For the first time, roof-top solar panels can now generate energy more cheaply than traditional energy sources from coal-fired power plants. This is a fundamental game-changer.

To quote from the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems– “The implications of this are obvious. Having households able to produce energy at the same cost as coal—not including the network, distribution and retail costs that are added to central generation—is likely to change the business metrics of the entire utility industry.”

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