I take issue with the designation of solar energy as primitive. The vast majority of solar cell/panel manufacturing is aimed at only one basic app: solar panels for buildings, and only one basic technology: silicon-based PV, since that was the most likely to be quickly adaptable to existing processes and therefore the most likely to reach volumes quickly to bring prices down, etc. So that's the vast majority of what we've got, especially in developed countries. There are other apps that have been addressed, but we in the West often don't hear about them, since many are aimed at uses that to us would seem like camping, but to people in poorer countries seem like a lifeline.
taimoortariq, solar panels are powering several spacecraft, which is one reason I don't think the state of the art can be called primitive. We've mentioned that here, among other places: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=244386
So now I am wondering about how big a solar powered car would have to be if the cells could convert 80% of the incident energy into electrical power. Is it possible that the whole concept would be unworkable because even at that efficiency not enough energy would be available?
And what about fixed solar cell systems? If the solar cell arrays were to be able to convert 80% of the incident energy into a useful form, would it be "worth the effort" economically?
One of the things that I have learned in my engineering career is that just because something can be done does not assure that it can ever be done economically. That i9s a criteria that should be used to evaluate a lot of ideas, which is asking if there is enough energy available so that at any level of efficiency it would be adequate.
I came across this video on youtube, where they are utilizing the solar energy from large panels( 50 meters wings) for a UAV called Titan. It is pretty impressive to watch. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=If8MODnvjhw
I agree Rob, altough the current researches and solar based projects are always amuzing to watch, we haven't attained that point where we can heavily rely on solar energy. Still there is a long way to go, but as far as the low energy devices are concerned, solar energy is doing great.
I think it would be fairer to say that solar panels developed for rooftop use on buildings have been applied to a small enclosed space, a car, instead of re-thinking the concept and/or technology for this particular application.
I saw the solar car in person at Siemens PLM conference in Dallas this past summer. It's really big, and the room for the driver is really tiny. While it's an admirable project, it proves how primitive solar energy is at this point.
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