What is the most under appreciated thing in your life? If you said your mom, you’re right. If you said electricity, you’re even more right.
Not that Right.
Electricity is something of a miracle in both modern life and a purely scientific sense, but it’s so commonplace that we’ve simply accepted it. However, even if the average person doesn’t contemplate their outlet, other people do. Well, more specifically, researchers at the University of Berkeley and U.S. Department of Energy do. These fantastic (and likely under appreciated) people have pioneered a way for solar cells to be made from any semiconductor, such as relatively cheap metal oxides or phosphides. This is a tremendous step forward to sustainability.
Metal oxides and phosphides were previously too unstable to be used. Also, the chemical treatment that could stabilize them was so cost ineffective that it was better to use existing rare and expensive semiconductors like silicon or cadmium telluride.
So why is this a big deal?
For environmental enthusiasts, this means that solar panels can be created at a far cheaper rate and going off grid has become easier. For political people, it means an opening has been made to reduce demand for rare earth materials from China. For everybody else, it means potentially cheaper, renewable energy. Renewable energy is the thousand dollar prize here and what’s more renewable than a 4.5 billion year old ball of nuclear fire?
Your car insurance?
Solar energy is usually derided for not being cost-effective and that’s because it’s expensive to build solar panels and the resultant conversion of light to useful energy barely ever touches more than 30%. However, solar panels are still being researched alongside its far more popular cousin, the combustion engine. Combustion engines are still being worked on to improve fuel efficiency because despite more than a century of development, the full potential energy of a gallon of gas isn’t being tapped, which is dangerously wasteful given that we have only so much oil and so many automobiles. With this in mind, detractors should give solar panels time to mature as they do with the combustion engine. Renewable energy is not just about reducing reliance on fossil fuels but also about planning for sustainability. In essence, I am talking about the long game where every human being from this point on will be playing in. Billions upon billions of people that we may never see but will forever affect.
So let’s appreciate this step forward as much as we do our mothers.