The solar revolution is happening around the world. People are realizing that they can easily change the way that power is created. For two centuries the world has relied upon fossil fuel, mostly coal and oil, for almost every form of power. It lights our homes, powers our appliances and drives our cars. Unfortunately fossil fuels rely on combustion to release their power. This power can drive turbines to convert that explosion into electricity or move the wheels of a car for transportation.
Burning anything releases various gasses into the air, especially carbon dioxide. CO2 is essential to the health of the planet, but there is a strict balance that has to be maintained to allow life to flourish. That balance has been put into jeopardy because of the massive amount of cars, trucks, busses and airplanes that are operated every day as well as the amount of coal-fired electricity being produced. The average person, not just scientists, has begun learning and actually noticing how it is affecting the weather and environment. Many everyday people are taking action against it by using and promoting alternative energy sources such as solar power.
Solar power is an effective way to harness the power of the sun, something plants have been doing for millions of years. It is cheap and reliable and can produce incredible amounts of power, but only during the day. This is where solar power runs into a problem. It can produce more power during the day than the average home uses. Most houses will use less power during the day, and much less in the summer which is the peak power producing time for solar panels. To be effective this power must be stored somehow.
One popular way of storing solar power is by connecting the solar panels to the existing electrical grid, effectively turning it into a massive solar battery. This allows excess energy to be sent back to the electric company, actually making the power meter run backwards. At night power is taken from the grid as usual. This is only as reliable as the existing grid. Any power outputs can still affect these solar panel set-ups, but no rechargeable batteries have to be used.
Rechargeable batteries are notoriously short lived and expensive. They either have low power flows for a long time with a good capacity, or they have high power flows for short times with poor capacity. Typical batteries, especially lithium ion, have high capacity for storing power, but deliver a weak output and recharge slowly. The ideal solar battery would be able to charge quickly, have a high density for storing power and be able to emit as much of that power as is needed. This ideal combination is something that no battery has been able to do until recently. It was only through the study of nanotechnology that it was made possible.
Researchers at the University of Maryland have developed a way of creating very powerful, flexible rechargeable batteries using nanotechnology. The individual parts, which look surprisingly like a photovoltaic panel only thousands of times smaller, are self-assembling, self-replicating, and align by themselves as well. No mechanical process can achieve anything nearly as small, which also contributes to their relatively low cost. They are still in the test and trial phase, but should see widespread production and implementation within a year. Being able to store the power created from the sun and wind will soon make fossil fuels obsolete and arcane.