Do you remember as a kid when you had a solar powered watch, or the bobble-heads that only worked with the lights on? That technology has been around a long, long time it seems, but it hasn’t yet translated to universal light-powered appliances in every home. Let’s take a look how the technology in this area has progressed in recent years.
First, to explain why there aren’t many stand-alone light powered appliances, take into account the fact that a watch only uses a very small amount of energy to achieve a very simple task. A clothes dryer, on the other hand, uses an immense amount of power (around 3.3 kWh per load). Add to this that since they are inside, the only light the appliances are exposed to are from light bulbs. Even if 100% of the energy from the light bulb was absorbed directly to the dryer, it still wouldn’t be near enough since light bulbs do not use much energy.
But, what about appliances that don’t use much energy, or ones that are more directly in the path of the sun? In these areas there has been much more progress. Interestingly, it is not in wealthy developed nations that these products are in highest demand. In areas of the undeveloped world with no access to the grid, solar powered lights and other devices allow them to skip the grid and go straight to off-grid solar. This has parallels to how much of the world skipped the need to create landline infrastructure like telephone poles, and instead went straight to cell phones.
In mid-2015, 20 million solar products under 10 kWh had already been sold to those without modern grid access. Most of these products are lights that can be used to read or light a home, but cell phone chargers are also common. About a third of those living off the grid in Kenya report having one of these solar products in their home, so they are becoming increasingly mainstream.
In the near future it may be possible to further progress the use of solar for off-grid appliances and products to many more devices. Televisions that have a small dedicated panel outdoors that power the device indoors do exist, but have had limited commercial success. Maybe the idea of having one panel outside for each device inside doesn’t seem practical so consumers who want solar are going instead for an integrated system. In the coming years it will be exciting to see how all the recent advancement in solar power technology gets applied to the devices we use in our daily life.