Today, the consumption of non-renewable substances like coal, gas, and oil is having an alarming impact on our planet. Around the world, governments and consumers alike are realizing that if we’re going to protect our world, we’re going to need to look for more sustainable sources of energy.
Fortunately, one of the most powerful options that we have is available all across the planet. Solar energy allows us to tap into the heat and light of the sun and transform those components into electrical charge. This innovative solution is appearing in applications across the globe. Today, we have everything from solar-powered lamps, to entire houses powered by the sun.
Solar radios are a popular and practical solution for people who can’t rely on constant access to mainline electricity and battery power. These radios aren’t just there as a consistent source of entertainment; they can also be a way for people to get crucial information in an emergency.
In many countries, radio is a lifeline, designed to preserve limited contact with the rest of the world. Radios that run on alternative sources of power, like the crank or solar radio, are incredibly valuable.
Let’s shine a light on solar powered radio.
What is solar powered radio?
Solar energy is the power given off by the sun.
The sun doesn’t just give us glorious summers and plenty of light; it’s also a highly efficient source of renewable energy. A solar power radio is a form of battery-less radio receiver that’s powered by photovoltaic technology. PV panels absorb the energy from the sun and convert it into a current that can keep your radio alive and kicking.
The very first solar powered radio was designed in the 1950s, in an experiment with the famous company, General Electric. The device weighed only ten ounces – making it excellent for portability. Additionally, it was able to work without any recharging whatsoever.
The GE solar powered radio contained seven solar cells in total, a small battery, and four transistors. By 1954, the Western Electric brand started to sell commercial solar powered radios, which featured a range of other photovoltaic technologies. By 1957, the Acopian Technical company reported that they had produced the first solar radios that could be sold to the general public.
Solar powered radios are convenient solutions that eliminate the need to constantly replace batteries, or keep your devices connected to a grid-based power supply. Since there’s no plug necessary, or electrical outlet, you can use these devices in areas where there aren’t any generators or grid access. Additionally, people in remote areas or locations without access to the grid will still be able to access the valuable information available on radio.
How does a solar powered radio work?
At first, solar powered radio seems complicated.
You might have seen those PV panels on top of a house and thought, “How does a solar-powered radio work?”. However, the process is a lot simpler than it seems.
There are two ways that you can collect solar energy. The first collects light from the sun, and the second involves absorbing the heat of the sun’s rays.
The first option is the most common, and it’s the method relied on for solar powered radios. PV panels or photovoltaic technology absorbs the light from the sun and runs it through semiconductors connected to two crucial contacts. When the light particles (photons) from the sun enter the semiconductors, they remove electrons from their atoms, creating an electrical current.
The second method of harnessing solar energy isn’t suitable to support a solar power radio. This method harnesses solar power as thermal energy through a series of reflections and mirrors. This produces steam which powers a turbine and generates electricity.
One of the biggest issues facing designers of solar powered radios is that various features can affect the amount of power a device can produce with energy from the sun. For instance, the amount of sun the device is exposed to will have an impact on its performance. If there’s no battery available to hold the charge, it’s also not possible to use the solar system at night.
A brief history of solar power: The energy of the future
To truly understand the potential of solar powered radio, you need a basic understanding of solar power and where it came from. You may be surprised to learn that solar energy has been a common method of power since the 7th century (BC). Before we ever had houses and cars, the Greeks and Romans were using mirrors to capture light and use it for setting fire to torches.
Of course, the technology available in solar power radio today has come a long way since those early days. The world’s first cell for collecting solar power was designed in the year 1767. This device, created by Horace Benedict De Saussure, a Swiss scientist, was produced when Saussure found that he could use heat power and steam to generate electricity. Using layers of glass, the scientist magnified the temperature of the sun and used it for his experiments.
In 1839, we discovered a new milestone in the evolution of solar energy, when we defined the power of photovoltaic effects. A French scientist named Edmund Becquerel found out through research in his father’s lab that he could create a PV effect with an electrolytic cell using two electrodes. After he exposed the battery to light, the energy levels within it increased. In an article published in 1873, the discovery was released, and six years later, the very first photovoltaic cell was made.
A man called Charles Fritts designed the solid PV cell by covering the semiconductor’s selenium with a small layer of gold. It was the first demonstration that proved a solid material with no moving parts could transform the sun’s power into energy.
Since Fritts’ discovery, scientists around the world have searched for ways to improve the performance and efficiency of PV cells. In 1888, a Russian scientist named Aleksandr Stoletov built the first photoelectric cell based on the photoelectric effect. The concept of the photoelectric effect came from a man named Heinrich Hertz, who was also responsible for discovering some of the technology that went into the creation of the radio.
The photoelectric effect found that electrons were released from substances after they absorbed light. Incredible scientist Albert Einstein eventually published a paper on the phenomenon, which he used to win the Nobel Prize for physics in 1921. By the time we reached the 1950s, global warming was already a common concern. Many magazines published stories on the subject, and people were starting to become aware of the growing issue around the depletion of fossil fuels. The first practical photovoltaic cell for mass use emerged in a laboratory in 1954, designed by Daryl Chaplin. A few years later, the US government was testing the potential of PV cells to power the satellites orbiting the earth.
As the decades passed by, the potential of PV cells and solar power became more significant. Between the 1970s and 1990s, we saw a massive uptake in the use of solar cells, as they began to appear on homes, railroad crossings and more. Now, we can find solar cells in a huge range of places, including cars that run partially on solar energy, and the potential of solar powered aircraft.
Crank radio vs. solar power radio
As we mentioned above, radio is often a lifeline for many countries, who see their broadcasts as the only source of news and information that they can reliably access. Solar powered radio isn’t the first foray that scientists have made into a sustainable radio that people can access in any part of the world. Battery-less radio receivers have been in production for decades, designed to help eliminate the issues that prevent people outside of the grid from having radio technology.
Crystal radios were one of the original “battery-less” radio receivers, capable of receiving information from long wired antennas. However, these radios were very limited in what they could reasonably do. They weren’t enough to support the impoverished nations of today. Additionally, in the Soviet Union during the 1920s, thermoelectricity was used to power radios. However, again, the results were unreliable and often dangerous.
Some scientists even explored the potential of kerosene radios and petrol radios, but none of these innovations had the same durability and sustainability offered by the crank and solar radios to come. Fortunately, in the mid-1990s, a man named Trevor Baylis appeared with a new answer to the question of sustainable energy for modern communications.
Baylis created the first “clockwork” radio, or wind-up radio – a solution originally considered to be the best way to access power for radios in some of the world’s poorest locations. However, critics argued that the wind-up radio was too expensive for people in impoverished environments. Many UK companies said that the cost of wind-up radios is quite high – even if the expenses involved with running and maintaining the machines were much cheaper than they would be with battery-run receivers.
As a philanthropist, Baylis did what he could to reduce that problem, by working with non-profit organizations to give a large portion of clockwork radios to the countries that needed them most. Aid agencies were given special rates for the radios and were able to give them away in various communities for a meagre price. Of course, the people who didn’t get a hand-out still found that it was impossible to get their hands on the right radio.
Although wind-up radios solved problems for many countries to a certain extent, manufacturers and scientists still felt that they needed to find a more sustainable way to provide communication to the world. That’s where the idea of the solar powered radio came from.
Solar power radio keeps costs low by using the off-cuts of commercial solar panels produced in UK factories and adding them to cheap, but durable radio kits. The end result is simple and easy to use, but it’s also highly reliable. There is an issue with solar powered radios that people won’t be able to use them at night or may forget to charge them during the day. However, some manufacturers have begun to solve this problem by supplying rechargeable batteries for their solar powered machines.
The benefits of solar powered radio devices
Most people today are aware of the generic benefits of choosing solar power over conventional forms of energy. Solar is renewable, sustainable, and it doesn’t hurt our environment. In a time where we’re more aware of things like global warming than ever before, it’s crucial for all countries and governments to ensure that they’re taking the potential of solar power seriously.
For projects on a larger scale, many government bodies are starting to offer financial benefits to people who are willing to explore the benefits of solar power. For instance, you can get grants that help you to place solar panels on your house, and then sell the energy that you make back to the grid.
As a form of portable solar powered device, solar power radio offers many benefits. The most important advantage of all is that a solar radio is available to use anywhere. Solar powered systems are also lightweight, easy to carry, and highly portable. People can take their devices with them whether they’re moving across the country, trekking in the countryside or hiking. Many people rely on these radios as a crucial piece of survivalist kit – particularly if they do a lot of outdoor adventuring.
There are no wires to get in the way with solar powered radio, and there’s no need to worry about the impact that your electrical devices are having on the environment. Aside from solar powered radios, countless other portable devices are available with solar energy solutions built into them today. You can find everything from solar powered cameras and surveillance systems, to smartphone chargers.
When Trevor Baylis designed his original crank radio, he wanted to give people in Africa and other countries a chance to access the educational information they needed to improve their health and wellbeing. The crank radio was meant to be a way to support the fight against the AIDS epidemic, as many experts believed that a lack of knowledge was supporting the spread of the disease.
In the same way, solar power radio can change the lives of thousands by offering an easy way to access crucial information. These radios take the sunlight that is abundant in many parts of the world and converts it into energy, which can keep a radio running all day long – without any cranking necessary. At the same time, access to radio stations lets people in isolated part of the world know that they’re not alone – no matter how far removed they may be from other civilizations.
Since the original invention of the radio, this broadcasting technology has helped people around the world to come together into a more connected community. Solar powered radio takes that concept to the next level by eliminating the need for grid access or expensive batteries.
The future of solar power radio
Solar powered radio has a lot to offer.
Beyond supporting impoverished countries and making sure that you can still listen to the radio on your family camping trips, these devices have a range of other practical applications. Because they don’t need any sources of electricity or batteries to stay running, they’re ideal for an emergency kit. In a troubling situation when you don’t have access to energy, you’ll still be able to find out what’s going on by listening to your radio.
Solar power is an easy and sustainable way for humanity to access the power it needs without producing dangerous greenhouse gasses or wasting electricity. Since we initially discovered the exciting potential of PV panels, the cost of creating power with solar energy has been steadily decreasing over the years. As a result, countries all across the globe have been able to start investing more time and money into creating solar innovations.
In the future, you may find that most of your electrical devices are powered by the sun, including your laptop, your car, and more. The electricity created by growing solar plants supplies power to commercial businesses and entire communities in certain parts of the world. We’re gradually reducing our dependence on non-renewable materials, one solar powered radio at a time.
Additionally, scientists and developers are continually discovering new ways to take advantage of solar power radio technology. For instance, in 2018, a group of engineers found a way to perform blockchain powered cryptocurrency transactions, using nothing but solar power and short-wave radio broadcasting. This wasn’t the world’s first cryptocurrency transaction powered by radio, but according to the developers, it was the first one to happen entirely off grid.
The team found a way to manage their transaction with nothing but a solar battery pack, a portable hard-drive, and a shortwave radio. The result of the experimentation shows just how powerful solar powered radio waves can be in the right hands. The right technology doesn’t just support people who want to tune into their favorite shows and listen to tunes. Radio waves are also the tech that we use to create remote controls, microwaves, and countless other essential items.
The project was developed as part of the Call for Code challenge, which asks developers from a host of backgrounds to compete against each other in creating tech that might support people during times of natural disaster. The resulting technology provides us with a way to send messages and other vital data off the grid, through the blockchain, in an immutable and secure environment.
It’s impossible to say for sure what’s next for solar and solar power radio – but it seems evident that this sustainable technology is here to stay.
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