Sunday, August 14, 2011

Solar Power

Solar power was the big "cool new thing" in the 80s and 90s. But it never really caught on. Why? There isn't a reliable way to store the energy and then transmit it through the "grid" to homes.

And why didn't it occur to anyone to just eliminate the grid?

It occurred to this guy:

That's a link to a solar-powered phone charger. That costs less than $30.

And here's the solar-powered lightbulb:

Nice idea, right?

These aren't perfect. You have to charge them outside, for one. And they are designed to be brighter than candles, but they aren't terribly bright. They don't last all night--only 6 hours.

But still, it's certainly looking in the right direction. It would be a fantastic camping supply, addition to your emergency kit, etc.  And it's also a fantastic starting point, if people will take it. Can they develop more efficient solar panels? Brighter LEDs? What if we all shifted from a local energy grid to a home energy grid, where each house was solar-charged for everything? Could they develop a system that can do that? We could still use the local, traditional grid as backup, of course. Instead of mass-market energy production, we'd be shifting to a make-it-and-use-it-on-site kind of system, and that makes a lot of sense to me.

I would be delighted to install lights in a nice row, embedded through the top of the wall of my house, with the solar panels outside and the bulbs inside, so they passively charge all day and automatically light the rooms all night (until we turn them off, of course). We have a solar light we got for a dollar at the dollar store that charges all day and then lights the front walk (or the car when we travel at night so the kids aren't scared) with a single, reflected LED. Surely you could make a giant one of those and embed it in the wall. And the parts are cheap, right? So I could, theoretically, light my whole house that way, right? It would require a paradigm shift (and a shift in our interior design ideals), but not a very big one. Goodness, with my flat roof, I could install them all over the ceiling, with the solar panels on the roof, and have light all summer (the snow would be a problem in the winter, though....).

Anda said the other day, "Why don't we use the heat that naturally hits the house all summer as the energy source for cooling the house?" Instead of electricity, she was thinking. In sunny places, like Vegas, that makes a lot of sense. She said she would get to work on developing the technology, and we talked about the list of things she needs to learn in order to get started.

The whole concept makes sense to me: there is energy all around us in nature, but it's unreasonable to try to collect it for mass consumption. But is it unreasonable to collect it for individual consumption? Could we harness the kinetic energy of falling raindrops, for example, with thousands of tiny water wheels, to power a generator or battery? Can we capture the heat and light? Can each house have its own windmill, powering what it needs (instead of the behemoths that terrify the livestock and end up being less effective than everyone hoped?).

Perhaps the key, as Anda noticed, is for the energy that surrounds the house to JUST power this house.

I know I'm not the only person who has entertained ideas like this before--Tim mentioned it almost a year ago after reading something somewhere.

I'm just wondering why nobody is working on it publicly?

At the very least, I'm going to be saving my pennies to get the $15-$20 bulb to put in our emergency supplies. That's pretty inexpensive for a really valuable thing to have in an emergency.

1 comment:

Friple said...

Maybe a solution would be to make a three-mode bulb that has three modes: Normal (Solar-powered, good for summer, spring, and fall), Winter (Powered by the Mains, good for winter), and Off (This one goes without saying).