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Ingeniare. Revista chilena de ingeniería

versión On-line ISSN 0718-3305

Ingeniare. Rev. chil. ing. vol.22 no.1 Arica ene. 2014 

Ingeniare. Revista chilena de ingeniería, vol. 22 N° 1, 2014, pp. 2-3



Photovoltaic society



Would four eminent physicists such as Becquerel, Hertz, Albert Einstein and Robert Millikan have guessed that at the dawn of the 21st century global society would seriously consider to turn to alternative photoelectric effect to face a growing shortage of natural non renewable resources used as fuel?

Maybe the bright minds of these scientists had dreamed of it and also that the technological use of their discoveries would become a lucrative business for visionary entrepreneurs able to take advantage of these advances and accumulate conspicuous wealth. But it is also respectful to assume they all thought that the inevitable commercialization of their discoveries would be the only way to bring the benefits of science to the common people. Based on the former idea they might feel thankful.

A set of silicon cells form a solar panel, the technological result, which in these days is the most widely manufactured device, developed for the utilization of solar energy conversion into electricity, which occurs in the collision of photons against free electrons in silicon crystals chain. Those solar panels exist today; millions of them installed around the world, covering an area of around 600,000 square kilometers, a territory larger than the area of 150 independent nations out of a total of 197 countries associated with the United Nations.

The 2012 annual report of the EPIA (European PV Industry Association) states that that year it surpassed the barrier of 100 GW of solar PV in the world, something no one would have imagined 10 years ago, as stated by the EPIA president himself, Winfried Hoffmann. This prestigious organization points out that the market for the photovoltaic industry in Europe clearly faces difficult economic times, but despite the increasing regulatory uncertainty, the old continent has managed to repeat the record of 2011 and in the world, the installation of new solar photovoltaic systems maintains an exponential growth trend in the percentage of its share with respect to the other sources of the energy matrix. An earlier report by the EPIA, "Unlocking the Sunbelt Potential of Photovoltaics" of 2011, shows the development of PV outside Europe, noting that China, Australia, India and Israel have experienced increasing development in the photovoltaic market and in other countries such as Mexico, South Africa and Chile. One more fact: solar photovoltaic energy produced in the world today prevents the emission of 53 million tons of CO2 each year, which otherwise would have occurred in coal-fired power plants running 24 hours a day.

Global experts have set three factors that will ultimately enable for the expansion of photovoltaic installations in other countries outside Europe, an area that already has a mature PV market. These factors are: 1) Ability to attract capital (foreign or domestic) due to the ongoing economic policies with government support. 2) Regulatory laws of exploitation and expansion of existing electrical system, enabling new investors in photovoltaic systems to compete healthily and 3) Attraction and full public acceptance on the use of photovoltaics, associating them with a noble value, strength coined in the last thirty years (the Kyoto Protocol 1997), as is the protection of the environment.

It is easy to show that on the development of power generation systems using photovoltaic panels as well as its applications, its advantages and disadvantages, thousands or perhaps millions of published documents have been written by government agencies, NGOs, universities, research centers, technology companies, marketing institutions, political groups, etc., but what has not been said is, perhaps due to the fact that is not yet fully perceived, that the authors of those reports have been transforming today's society, directing it without clearly appreciating the goal toward a more sensitive community, slowly discovering how the existence of other sources of energy can sustain life as we know it today, attached to technology, but not submitted to the city. A society that does not want to participate in further erosion of the planet Earth, but now understands that it is possible to maintain a high degree of the privileges of the city by living in a pleasant rural sector. Soon there will be ordinary citizens feeling as participants of a new global community, where part of their everyday pursuit will be to take advantage of photovoltaic systems, a Photovoltaic Society.

The concepts of "energy conservation", "sustainable energy matrix", "smart grid city", "grid injection", are increasingly internalized by modern communities, organized groups of citizens around the world are demanding their governments to protect the environment, with the support of countless examples of the use of renewable energy to replace polluting sources and that the use of photovoltaic systems is viewed favorably. The promulgation of regulations having incentives such as "net metering" or "distributed generation" bring the benefits of having small electrical generators for ordinary people. It seems that new technology of inverters actually small power "micro inverters", will be the cornerstone from which to constitute a new kind of society, in realistic conditions to the regular use of the electricity produced by photovoltaic panels. These micro inverters automatically manage the quality of the energy injected to the network in perfect synchronization with it, only being necessary that the surface of the solar panels, associated with one of these micro inverters connected to a regular power outlet, receives sunlight and the home starts saving electrical energy, because the loads prefer the local generating energy than the provided by the distribution company.

Declaring commitment to environmental protection is a logical consequence of conservative thought and therefore holding conservative policies, because they think they are much more effective, is to not understand what wonderful contribution of new technologies and engineering can mean, to help mankind to the desired evolution of thought currently facing the economy with the environment. No other unconventional energy source expresses so clearly the desire of the community to contribute with new solutions to repair the damage caused by humans to the environment like photovoltaic systems, which seem to have a magical aura, although few understand the physical working principle, simply associated with an "devices" easy to use, which make possible the acquisition of part of the infinite generosity of the greatest deity of humanity: the sun.

Photovoltaic generators, in the mode of "grid injection" for residential use, have little environmental impact, the absorbing surface of the sunlight, in the simplest cases, can be easily installed in the vicinity of the home, accommodated in roofs or beautifully integrated to the architecture of modern houses. In European countries, the United States, China, Japan and South Korea, the surfaces of solar panels invade buildings, parks, roofs of industries, educational institutions, residential areas, small towns. Today, the silhouette of solar panels, their physical appearance and their metallic blue is recognized by millions of human beings, perhaps in a greater percentage than those living in rural areas than in the city.

Whatever the case is, the owner of a small photovoltaic generator will reach a level of legal equality facing the electric company in his area and both will be producing electricity. While conventional generators lose efficiency, fuel is getting more expensive and polluting, in contrast, primary energy source is free for photovoltaic systems, it is clean and renewable and with current prices of solar panels, at a rate of US$ 2 for every unit of Watt, the range of return of investment of photovoltaic projects is between 5 and 8 years, thus for the common citizen, preferably a young adult, a great opportunity to contribute from their own home is shown, in order to form an energy matrix environmentally friendly.

Ph. D. Ricardo Ovalle Cubillos
Escuela Universitaria de Ingeniería Eléctrica-Electrónica
Universidad de Tarapacá
Arica, Chile

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