Are we on the brink of a solar revolution? Over the past couple of years, there have been some significant breakthroughs in solar energy, specifically in reducing production costs of solar. During this time, the cost of photovoltaic panels has dropped by around 25-30% each year and this price drop shows no sign of slowing down.
In fact, if anything it is speeding up. A few companies have been working on more advanced amorphous panels that have much lower production costs. These have been in production for the past few months, with a cost point of around $0.60 per watt (about 40% cheaper than what we see today). Once production has ramped up, these manufacturers are saying they will be able to sell these panels for around one sixth of that cost.
So what does this mean for solar power? Quite simply, it will become the cheapest means of generating electricity available. At a wholesale cost of $100 per kilowatt (as opposed to around $1,000 today) we could see solar being incorporated into almost anything. Self-charging mobile phones, MP3 players, netbooks and laptops would be standard and the cost of fitting solar power to homes would be so cheap it would offer a payback in only a few months, no matter where in the world you lived. Warehouses and factories would all have photovoltaic roof panels, generating most – if not all – the power they need to operate by themselves. Electric cars would all have photovoltaic roof panels, providing up to 3,000km (1,800 miles) of self-generating power every year. Power companies could set up new regional power stations in just a few weeks instead of the several years it takes now.
The ability to generate electricity at an affordable price would be limited only by the amount of space you have. Got a big enough roof? You need never want for electricity again.
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Of course we still need some way of storing the energy produced so we can release it when we need it rather than just when the sun is shining, but nevertheless, this is an exciting opportunity. Incidentally, in terms of energy storage, I still have high hopes for ultra-capacitors, but as yet we have seen a lot of speculation and hype and very little in the way of practical usable products. Let’s just wait and see.
In effect, solar has the potential to do two things in the next decade: decarbonise much of our electricity generation and make electricity so cheap that it is effectively free to use.
This changes the whole dynamics of how we view and use power. If electricity is so cheap that it is effectively free, everything starts to change. How are you going to heat your home? Expensive gas or free electricity? Are you going to have a car with an internal combustion engine using expensive fuel, or an electric car with free fuel? If solar power becomes the cheapest way of generating electricity, businesses and individuals won’t choose solar “because it’s green” but “because it is so cheap, you’d be daft not to”.
Since ancient times the sun was considered as a source of energy: spiritual and other wise. It is so sad to find out that in fact only 10% of solar energy is actually used. Perhaps if we are more aware of its use and its capacity as a sustainable power then maybe we will be able to use and promote solar power.
The Beginning of All Things
Unbeknownst to a lot of people, solar energy actually is the source of numerous sustainable powers like radiation, waves and wind. Solar energy has many usage it can give us light, heat, promote cooling, it can be harnessed through technology to power many things like for machines cooking, distillation, hot water, and disinfection.
Technology and The Sun
As we all know heat produces unfathomable amounts of energy. This energy has to be aided by technology in order to be converted into something that is usable by mankind. There are two types of solar technology, the passive and or the active solar energy. A classification between the two depends on how the heat from the sun is harnessed and channeled into ordinary things powered by electricity.
Active Solar Technologies use solar (photovoltaic) panels, combined with solar thermal collectors, and then channeled thru mechanical or electrical equipment. Passive solar technology is merely a technique in order to capture the suns useful rays; for example a skylight.
Electricity From The Sun
We are all familiar with the term “solar panel”; solar panels convert the heat from the sun into actual electrical current with the use of what is called the photoelectric effect. Concentrated solar power produces insurmountable energy. In fact it was greatly utilized during the time of the Ancient Chinese Civilization.
To concentrate the power of the sun, a series of mirrors and lenses are used in order to focus the light in one area thereby producing a single beam. There are a lot of technological advances out there that concentrates solar energy in order to produce a concentrated amount of power they are: the solar power tower, the parabolic dish and the solar trough.
Dilemma, Solution, And Economics.
The primary concern of the use of solar energy as a sustainable power is that there is no sun during the night. Modern times require continuous supply that is why storing solar energy is a key component of solar technology. Thermal storage systems can store solar energy. Newer scientific discoveries also paved the way for thermal mass storage systems which vary storage capacity and function by storing more energy during off peak times and varying supply at peak consumption hours.
It usually takes a crisis for people to actually look at possibilities, and like with almost everything else solar energy began getting attention after the 1979 oil crisis and the 1973 oil embargo. In fact solar technology began its appearance in the 18 hundreds. IN the past solar energy as a sustainable power was a dream but cannot be realized due to expensive technology needed to use it.
Today, with the rising costs of electricity, the volatile oil prices, and its degenerating source have paved the way for solar energy once more. The consciousness environmental welfare has prompted companies to manufacture affordable solar technologies and sell it commercial. Indeed it is a fact that solar technology is expensive but it is only in the purchase of the machines needed in the long run if you calculate it, you are actually getting a bargain.
Perhaps the greatest argument that could be leveled about having to use fossil and nuclear fuel is our dependence on it. Global warming, though a real serious threat, maybe something that we could only be very worried about. Singly nothing much could be done about it as it will take serious political will if it is to be addressed effectively and for now, other countries are not cooperating. But the choice between traditional and alternative sources of energy, that is something most of us can choose to do.
First the advantages:
Solar energy is abundant and is free. We can count the sun to rise tomorrow and the day after that. Oil and natural gases on the other hand are non renewable, once the source taps out, it is gone forever. Sure there are other areas that could still be tapped but sooner that could run out of oil as well.
Solar energy does not pollute the air. If ever, the heat coming from the sun cleans the environment and maintains the earth’s eco balance. Not so with oil. Oil, its derivatives and its byproducts are great pollutants. In fact, 22,000 pounds of carbon monoxide will need to be produced first for the oil to be processed and supply a home with electrical energy for a year.
Solar energy harnessing panels are silent operators. Except maybe for the mechanical contraptions that are built into the panels so it could track the sun, from the collection of the suns rays to its photovoltaic conversion, they give neither a peep nor a squeak. It is a world of difference from the cacophony of giant drills and pumps that are used to extract oil form the ground.
Maintenance for the solar panels is very minimal. Except for the mechanical parts that are optional, almost no maintenance is needed. Once it is installed nothing much will be the cause for worry. The energy that is derived is free. With oil there is no telling what the next pump price would be and when. Oil, being a commodity, heavily depend its prices on market forces. Often with the right strategies, even market forces could be manipulated that could cause volatility in pricing.
The Disadvantages of Solar Energy
The cost. While solar energy is free, the cost of installation setbacks many household from installing it. Brand new solar energy generating systems are expensive. Although it tends to pay off overtime, initial cash out could range into several thousands of dollars depending on the quality and volume of generated power a household or an establishment would require. While solar energy technology has been around since the 1950’s it is only in recent years that its development was spurred. While costs of installation could also be subjective depending on the purchasing capacity of a customer, the benefits that could be derived out of it is enormous although mostly in unquantifiable terms.
For mass consumption, distribution lines are needed and this remains to be a big issue. Old antiquated distribution lines used to transfer electricity and other modes of fuel into the homes are clogged in many regions that to deliver solar energy power into the houses of consumers will require a different approach.
Be that as it may, the benefits from solar power far outweigh its disadvantages. It is an ideal source of energy that it may soon be the norm in power generation.