The sun’s energy has been harnessed and recognised as a sustainable source of creating light and heat. History records that as far back as the 7th century B.C, man was using a magnifying glass to concentrate the sun’s rays onto kindling and make fire, the light and heat source of its time. Throughout time, civilised societies have built their houses with glass facing the sun to capture its warmth as a basic form of central heating.
Solar power relates to the conversion of sunlight into electricity, which can then be used to power certain items, such as solar lights. Solar power arrived in force in 1954 with the development of a solar cell that could effectively convert light into energy. Over the next few years, further developments led to an increase in efficiency from 6 per cent to over 40 per cent, coupled with a gradual decrease in cost.
Although solar power has many applications, solar lighting is amongst the most popular use. Large electrical items require high levels of energy to power them, which in turn necessitates the need for large solar panels in order to capture enough energy from the sun. Solar lights, on the other hand, do not require big energy sources and can therefore can be powered off much smaller panels. This offers a higher level of convenience and portability as the solar panels can be built into the lighting unit.
The beauty of solar lighting is that it can be used anywhere and virtually any time, with no costs except the initial purchase. With advanced technology, direct sunlight is not even required to charge the batteries as they will charge even on a cloudy day, which is handy in good old Blighty. Used commonly in garden lights and torches, solar lights lend themselves well to ground lights, creating atmospheric patio designs.
Solar lights apply themselves well to outdoor use, eliminating the need for unsafe wiring. Good positioning ensures optimum charging and as the sun goes down the lights come on. However, solar lighting can also be used to good effect inside, although more detailed circuitry is required.
The future of solar lighting is destined to be long lasting as clean renewable sources of energy become ever higher on the list of essentials. The latest buzzword is hybrid solar lighting, which uses a combination of technologies to not only light up on a sunny day, but to collect the excess energy to be used on cloudy days. The newest versions feature systems where sunlight is collected indoors using a mirrored system and optical light cables. Solar-wind hybrid lights are also being developed and used, to capture the full power of nature’s bounty.
Solar lighting may stem from the past in their most basic form, but they are also very much the present and will considerably be part of the future. Until the sun shines its last ray, solar lighting is here to stay and as technology advances, the applications will increase over and over again.