Humans have been trying to harness the sun’s energy for most of history, but it was the invention of the first photovoltaic cell by French physicist Edmond Becquerel in 1839 that finally made solar energy possible on a grander scale.
Since then, solar has come a long way.
Not only has the cost of producing solar panels dropped like a rock, manufacturers are now routinely pumping out new innovations such as flexible solar cells, ultra-thin cells, and transparent photovoltaic windows. These could be game-changers for the industry, adding to the already incredible 39% annual growth occurring in U.S. solar capacity between 2013-2017.
Animated Infographic: How Solar Panels Work
Today’s infographic comes from SaveOnEnergy, and it covers the science behind how solar panels work.
While it is fairly technical, the handy animations will help you understand the principles behind photovoltaic cells in no time at all.
In terms of our understanding of how different energy sources work, perhaps the photovoltaic effect is one of the least intuitive processes for the average person to comprehend. After all, something like capturing wind energy is much more straightforward. The wind spins a turbine, and that turbine generates electricity.
But solar panels have no moving parts. So how do these thin, glassy arrays turn sunlight into energy we can use?
Each solar cell is made of multiple layers. The top semiconductor is a negative layer, which means the material contains extra electrons. The sun’s energy “shakes” these electrons loose, and these electrons become naturally attracted to the bottom semiconductor layer, which is positively charged. The design of the cell forces electrons to move in a specific direction, creating an electrical current.
Why are solar panels getting so much cheaper? Technological advances have made cells more efficient in using the photovoltaic effect to create electricity, and manufacturing processes are improving as well.
Interestingly, in the future, it is expected that cost reductions will be tilted more to “soft” costs such as those related to the financing, permitting, and selling of solar projects.
Mapped: Fossil Fuel Production by Country
These four animated cartograms show the nations leading the world in fossil fuel production, in terms of oil, gas, coal, and total hydrocarbons.
Fossil fuels exist as a double-edged sword for most countries.
On one hand, they still make up a dominant piece of the current energy mix, and oil is still seen as a crucial resource for achieving geopolitical significance. It’s also no secret that fossil fuels are a driver for many economies around the world.
But with governments and corporations counting carbon emissions and mounting concerns about climate change, reliance on these same fuels will not last forever. As attitudes and policies evolve, they will continue to see a reduced role going forward.
Visualizing Fossil Fuels by Country
So, which countries are pumping out the most hydrocarbons?
Today’s cartograms come from 911Metallurgist, and the animated maps resize each country based on their share of global fossil fuel production.
Below, you’ll see four cartograms that cover oil, gas, coal, and total fossil fuel production.
Crude Oil Production
The United States leads this category, producing about 18% of the world’s total oil:
Although the U.S. is the number one producer globally, it should be noted that the country doesn’t have the same quantity of oil reserves as other leading nations.
Weirdly, Venezuela has the exact opposite problem. The country has the most oil reserves in the world, but currently only sits as its 12th biggest producer.
Natural Gas Production
In terms of gas, the U.S. leads again with a 20% share of global production. Russia is also a gas powerhouse, with a 17.3% share.
After the U.S. and Russia, it’s a fairly steep dropoff in terms of natural gas production. Countries like Iran, Canada, Qatar, and China are the next most significant players, but they each only produce 4-6% of the global total.
Coal use may be on the decline, but China still produces a whopping 45% of the world’s coal.
China’s current relationship with coal is an interesting one.
Every year, coal has become less important in China’s energy mix – in 2011 it represented 70% of energy consumption, and by 2018 it had fell to 59%.
Despite this meaningful progress, China’s economy has grown so fast, that coal use has essentially held steady in absolute terms. Meanwhile, the country’s production of coal has actually grown slightly over the same timeframe.
Total Fossil Fuel Production
Finally, here is the sum of all three above categories, converted to metric tonnes:
The United States produces 20% of all global fossil fuels, with Russia and Iran rounding out the top three. After that comes Canada, which produces just under 5% of all fossil fuels globally.
Animation: U.S. Electric Vehicle Sales (2010-19)
This stunning animation visualizes the last nine years of U.S. electric vehicle sales. We also look at who will lead the race in the coming years.
It’s challenging to get ahead, but it’s even harder to stay ahead.
For companies looking to create a sustainable competitive advantage in a fast-moving, capital intensive, and nascent sector like manufacturing electric vehicles, this is a simple reality that must be accounted for.
Every milestone achieved is met with the onset of new and more sophisticated competitors – and as the industry grows, the stakes grow higher and the market gets further de-risked. Then, the real 800-lb gorillas start to climb their way in, making competition even more fierce.
Visualizing U.S. EV Sales
Today’s animation uses data from InsideEVs to show almost nine years of U.S. sales in the electric vehicle market, sorted by model of car.
It paints a picture of a rapidly evolving market with many new competitors sweeping in to try and claim a stake. You can see the leads of early successes eroded away, the increasing value of scale, and consumer preferences, all rolled into one nifty animation.
The Tesla Roadster starts with a very early lead, but is soon replaced by the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, which are the most sold models in the U.S. from 2011-2016.
Closer to the end, the Tesla Model S rises fast to eventually surpass the Leaf by the end of 2017. Finally, the scale of the rollout of the Tesla Model 3 is put into real perspective, as it quickly jumps past all other models in the span of roughly one year.
The Gorilla Search
While Tesla’s rise has been well-documented, it’s also unclear how long the company can maintain an EV leadership position in the North American market.
As carmakers double-down on EVs as their future foundations, many well-capitalized competitors are entering the fray with serious and ambitious plans to make a dent in the market.
In the previous animation, you can already see there are multiple models from BMW, Volkswagen, Honda, Fiat, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, and Chevrolet that have accumulated over 10,000 sales – and as these manufacturers continue to pour capital in the sector, they are likely posturing to try and find how to create the next mass market EV.
Of these, Volkswagen seems to be the most bullish on a global transition to EVs, and the company is expecting to have 50 fully electric models by 2025 while investing $40 billion into new EV technologies (such as batteries) along the way.
The Chinese Bigfoot?
However, the 800-lb gorilla could come from the other side of the Pacific as well.
Source: The Driven
Chinese company BYD – which is backed by Warren Buffett – is currently the largest EV manufacturer in the world, selling 250,000 EVs in 2018.
The Chinese carmaker quietly manufacturers buses in the U.S. already, and it has also announced future plans to sell its cars in the U.S. as well.
How will such an animation of cumulative U.S. EV sales look in the future? In such a rapidly evolving space, it seems it could go any which way.
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