POWER FROM THE SUN
The Sun is responsible for everything. It is the ultimate decider in what makes life livable on our planet.
What is Solar Energy?
For billions of years the sun has been producing vast amounts of power through nuclear fusion. This is the process by which four hydrogen atoms combine to produce one helium atom.
This is the mechanism that the sun uses to generate its energy.
The amount of energy from the sun that reaches the Earth is vast. All the energy that can be produced by the non-renewable reserves of the world like petroleum, coal, and natural gas is equaled by just twenty days of sunshine.
The Power of the Sun
If measured outside of our atmosphere the energy that reaches Earth has about 1,300 watts per square meter. This energy is in radiant form and about a third of it is reflected back into space. A certain amount is absorbed by the atmosphere which is the primary cause of weather.
Ultimately the energy that reaches the surface of the Earth averages out to about 1,000 watts per square meter on a cloudless day. Of course some arid and desert areas receive more. This means that on a 24-hour day the energy that reaches earth is equivalent to one barrel of oil every year per square meter.
These numbers stand for the maximum energy that reaches the Earth from the sun but current technology allows only a small amount of this energy to be collected and converted to other forms of energy which can be more readily used.
Have we used any kind of Solar Energy before?
Solar power has been harnessed by humans since ancient times. The technology that has been used to harness solar energy has been evolving since then. Since the use of the oculus at the Parthenon in Rome daylighting techniques have been used by ancient architects. Natural light has been dominant method in the history of lighting.
During the industrial revolution the use of coal had increased steadily and has shifted from wood and other kinds of biomass to fossil fuels. In the 1860’s there was the expectation that coal would soon be exhausted as a power source so there was research conducted into solar power. However during the early part of the 20th century the development and research of solar power slowed and stopped because of the increasing availability and cost effectiveness of coal and petroleum at the time.
In 1973 during the oil embargo, the space race, and the 1979 energy crisis there was a review and reorganization of energy policies around the world and especially in the industrialized countries. This brought new life to solar power research and development of solar power technologies.
The technologies used in harnessing solar power are on the verge of rapid growth and development in the 21st century. Architects and engineers are increasingly aware of the advantages of building in passive solar power into their designs.
The cost of solar water heaters is becoming increasingly competitive with more conventional water heaters in certain areas. Photovoltaic technology is rapidly becoming a cheap way of generating electricity.
Ending Our Addiction to Fossil Fuel
Of course the expansion of solar power industry will encounter some problems but these can be overcome. In spite of difficulties put up by some utilities for grid connected photovoltaic systems there will be increased use of these technologies and solar power will be increasingly crucial in ending our addiction to fossil fuels and fighting the threat of global warming and assuring a future based on renewable and clean energy.
A Collaborative Effort
Many seem to think that the concept of utilizing solar energy is a modern development. In truth, solar energy has a long history and the use of solar power as we know it today cannot be credited to one inventor but to numerous great minds.
A Look at the Bright Minds Behind Solar Energy
The history of solar energy begins with Leonardo da Vinci whose sketches dating back to the 15th century show that he had been designing techniques for harnessing solar energy. It seems not much had developed from then since other proof of solar power studies dated centuries later, during the 1700s.
It was at this time when a Swiss scientist named Horace de Saussure began studying the potential of solar energy. In 1767, he was recognized for developing a solar energy collector (also known as a “hot box”), a first in the entire world.
During the late 1830s, a French physicist named Edmond Becquerel published his own studies on how light can be converted into energy. His findings, though, were not applied into actual technologies. It was also during this time when a British astronomer named John Herschel used a hot box, seemingly based on Horace de Saussure’s invention, to cook food when he went on an expedition to South Africa.
Mouchout Makes His Mark
It wasn’t until the 1860s when solar energy began to be taken seriously through the efforts of a French mathematician named Auguste Mouchout. Mouchout gained funds from the French monarch for his work. Through that funding, he was able to develop the very first motor that runs on solar energy. It was also he who invented the first solar-powered steam engine that he also used to make ice by connecting it to a refrigeration device.
And the Collaboration Continues
The pace of developments accelerated from there and, during the 1870s, William Adams, a British official based in India, used mirrors to harness energy from the sun in order to power a steam engine. The design of his invention is still being used today.
By 1883, the first solar cell was invented by Charles Fritz who became recognized as the first person to turn solar energy to electricity. Later on, a French engineer named Charles Tellier showed acceptance of utilizing solar energy by installing a solar-powered hot water system in his home.
Around 1904, American Henry Willsie was recognized as the first person to store energy generated during the day so that it could be used at night. Albert Einsten continuously experimented with photovoltaics and solar energy for which he gained a Nobel Prize in 1921. By the 1950s, scientists at Bell Laboratories accidentally discovered the potential of silicon for use in solar technology.
Great minds from centuries ago already recognized the need to use renewable resources yet; we still use technologies that run on non-renewable resources. Today, even more great minds are contributing to the history of solar energy and, hopefully some time soon, their inventions become widely accepted for the assurance of environmental sustainability.
How Does Solar Energy Work ?
Solar energy technologies are classified into two broad categories depending on the way that they capture and convert sunlight into usable energy.
Passive Solar Energy
When passive solar technology features are incorporated into the architecture of a building and are adjusted to fit the particular climate these methods can produce well lighted spaces that stay at comfortable temperatures reducing the need for power consuming artificial lighting and heating and cooling mechanisms.
Active Solar Energy
Active solar energy is more technology oriented. These methods use photovoltaic cells that directly convert sunlight to electricity, which can then be used easily for almost any purpose.
Another technique used in active solar energy is solar thermal energy collection and concentration, which is the generation of heat energy by concentrating sunlight. Heat is also more readily usable because it can be used to generate steam or convection currents in air to turn turbines that generate electricity.
The biggest technological hurdle is harnessing this radiant energy to turn it into more readily usable forms of energy like heat or electrical energy. At the current level of our technology the highest efficiency that is attainable is probably only 15 to 20 percent. This small percentage constitutes a disadvantage to solar energy.
The Nuts and Bolts
Generally the phrase “Solar Energy” refers to the conversion of solar radiation to other forms of practical energy like electricity or heat. However, the form of energy that is most usable to us is electricity. The generation of electricity from sunlight is further divided into to two sub categories. These methods are the direct and indirect methods.
Photovoltaic systems or solar cells are used to turn sunlight directly to electricity. Sunlight is made up of photons or particles of light energy. These photons have varying amounts of energy depending upon their wavelengths.
When a photon reaches the surface of a solar cell one of three things can happen. The photon may be reflected, or it may pass through, or it may be absorbed by the solar cell. The absorbed photon is the only one that can generate electricity.
If enough photons are absorbed by the semiconductor material (silicon & boron or cadmium) that the solar cell is made out of, the energy of the photons dislodge an electron from the material. The material receives special treatment so that its surface is more favorable to free electrons. This treatment makes the electrons flow freely to the surface of the material.
When enough electrons travel to the surface of the material with each electron carrying a negative charge there will be an imbalance that will exist between the front surface and the back surface of the material.
This imbalance becomes the voltage potential similar to the voltage potential between the positive and negative terminals of a battery. Connecting the two surfaces through a load will cause the electrons to flow creating a current. This is now electricity generated by solar radiation.
The indirect method uses solar power plants to generate electricity by using solar collectors to concentrate solar radiation and heat a liquid that produces steam. The steam that is produced is used to turn a turbine. This turbine is attached to a generator that finally produces electricity.
Making use of solar energy rather than that produced from natural gas, coal, and oil is much better for the environment and will ensure sustainability for a number of reasons. The sun is the best energy source because it is readily available and doesn’t run out.
Although it disappears at night, it will surely be present the next day to provide more energy. It provides so much energy; in fact, the amount of sunlight that reaches the surface of the Earth in one hour is enough to meet the world’s demand for energy for a whole year. And harnessing its energy for human use does not involve processes that emit harmful gases, unlike processes involved in producing energy from natural gas, coal, and oil. Have you ever heard of a solar spill??
More Benefits Equals a Good Investment
The truth is that the benefits of using solar energy do not just end in the fact that it is free, reliable, clean, and renewable. Using it can protect much of our natural resources as well as preserve ecosystems that would otherwise be drilled and destroyed to collect oil or mine coal.
In fact, just a 1-kilowatt solar energy system that generates about 150 kilowatt hours of energy per month has tremendous potential to promote environmental sustainability. Such a system keeps about 170 pounds of coal from being burned, approximately 300 pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the environment, and over 560 liters of water from being wasted per month. It also keeps sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide from being released into the atmosphere.
Although current solar energy systems may be a little pricey, it serves as a good investment for any household or business as it does not require recurring costs once it is installed. These systems are maintenance free & very reliable with 25 years warranties, making use of solar energy systems will rid you of or reduce your of monthly electricity bills substanualy.
These facts make it clear that utilizing solar energy is much more beneficial than our current sources. Apart from the fact that it is cost-effective, making use of solar energy is good for the environment and, as more and more people rely on the sun for their energy needs, the better we can guarantee sustainability.
Advantages of Solar Energy
Other energy sources being used are indirectly derived from the sun. The most common energy sources being used today like gas, coal, and petroleum are ancient biological material that derived their energy from the sun.
The energy that wood and foodstuffs have is still ultimately derived from the sun.
However, when I mention solar energy I usually am referring to the direct kind. This kind of solar energy by and large means the generation of heat or electricity by harnessing sunlight.
Sunlight concentration is also another way of using solar energy. Heat is also more readily usable than the energy in sunshine. You can use it for heating a building or for cooking or even for generating electricity.
Here Are 6 Reasons to Go Solar
1. The abundance of Solar Energy.
Even in the middle of winter each square meter of land still receives a fair amount of solar radiation. Sunlight is everywhere and the resource is practically inexhaustible. Even during cloudy days we still receive some sunlight and it is this that can be used as a renewable resource.
2. You don’t pay for sunlight.
Sunlight is totally free. There is of course the initial investment for the equipment. After the initial capital outlay you won’t be receiving a bill every month for the rest of your life from the electric utility.
3. Solar energy is getting more cost effective.
The technology for solar energy is evolving at an increasing rate. At present photovoltaic technology is still relatively expensive but the technology is improving and production is increasing. The result of this is to drive costs down. Payback times for the equipment are getting shorter and in some areas where the cost of electricity is high payback may be as short as five years.
4. Solar energy is non-polluting.
Solar energy is an excellent alternative for fossil fuels like coal and petroleum because solar energy is practically emission free while generating electricity. With solar energy the danger of further damage to the environment is minimized. The generation of electricity through solar power produces no noise. So noise pollution is also reduced.
5. Accessibility of solar power in remote locations.
Solar power can generate electricity no matter how remote the area as long as the sun shines there. Even in areas that are inaccessible to power cables solar power can produce electricity.
6. Solar energy systems are virtually maintenance free.
Once a photovoltaic array is setup it can last for decades. Once they are installed and setup there are practically zero recurring costs. If needs increase solar panels can be added with ease and with no major revamp.
Our use of solar energy to generate electricity is arguably one of the greatest achievements of our civilization and will probably be ready for a much bigger role to play in our future.
Advances in our technology that make it possible to harness sunshine to generate heat and electricity for a wide array of uses is mind boggling.
All over the Earth except for Antarctica and the Arctic there is usable sunshine for almost the entire year.
Sunlight is a universal source of energy that is free and available to everyone. Solar Energy is also renewable and non-polluting. So why isn’t everybody using solar energy right now?
Getting a Handle On Our Dependencies
All our lives are so dependent on electricity at the present state of our technology. If we need to feel warmer we buy a heater. If we need to feel cooler we buy electric fans or air conditioners. We don’t think twice we just plug in our appliances and they work flawlessly most of the time. How different would things be if we had to rely on solar energy?
When all variables are factored into the equation there is no perfect solution for an energy source. Issues and consequences regarding reliability, cost of production, initial capital outlay, payback times, and pollution all have to be taken into consideration.
Is Solar Power Inexhaustible?
Theoretically, solar energy is an energy source with the most potential. The source of the power is virtually inexhaustible (the sun). Solar energy produces no pollution, no carbon footprint, no odorous emissions, and no annoying noise. There are however several things which is stopping solar energy from being used more extensively.
Disadvantages of Solar Energy
The cloudy scene to the left is representative of a day that solar energy would not be effective.-
What are the Disadvantages of Solar Energy?
High initial capital outlay. The initial cost of installing a solar energy system can be prohibitively high for some budgets. The cost of buying and installing solar panel arrays is a bit steep. Payback times may reach from ten to fifteen years before you can even break even with your initial investment.
Dubious reliability. It is obviously impossible to power your home with a solar array at night if you don’t have a system in which to store power. This means batteries at our present level of technology. So you will probably still need to draw electricity from the local utility grid.
Availability of sunlight. The position of your solar array is obviously of major importance in the generation of electricity. This means that some houses will not be ideally suited for conversion or for installing a solar energy system.
Polluting materials used in solar panels. The majority of photovoltaic panels are made from silicon and other metals that are potentially toxic like boron, and cadmium. However, these panels can be recycled to avoid these elements from becoming dangerous.
The efficiency question. The current efficiency rate of most solar panels is just only 20 %. This means that 80% of the sun’s energy is wasted. There are some state of the art solar panels that can reach a maximum efficiency of 28 %. There are continuing technological advances that increase efficiency and lower costs.
Saving the Environment
More and more people are looking into utilizing solar energy to reduce costs and to help save the environment. Although solar energy systems may be somewhat expensive, it allows them to lower their utility bills as well as protect themselves from future increases of energy prices. A great retirement hedge fund!
Furthermore, there are home solar energy systems available through rebate programs and these often allow you to be eligible for tax credits. When it comes to saving the environment, solar energy systems can contribute greatly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, a 1-kilowat system can keep as much as 300 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the Earth’s atmosphere.
There are many different companies that offer solar energy systems for homes. Before you choose one, find out everything there is to know about the provider as well as the products you are considering.
First, you need to make sure that the supplier you are considering has the required accreditation for installing solar equipment. Then, schedule an appointment for consultation so you can find out whether you have sufficient sunny space in your home to collect enough solar power and if your roof is strong enough to support an entire system.
During your consultation, you need to discuss your budget and your energy requirements. This would allow them to give necessary recommendations on what size should be installed as well as where specific products will be placed.
As soon as recommendations have been made, ask about warranty periods for each part of the system as well as labor costs. Also ask about what type of metering device will be installed and if monitoring devices or software will be provided.
Are Rebates or Credits Available?
When you are already satisfied with all the details your supplier gives you regarding the solar energy system that you need, ask about additional services such as assistance in government processes and application for federal tax credit of 30% of the installed cost!
Residential solar energy systems differ according to the requirements of each home. Homes that are already serviced by utility companies use grid-connected solar energy systems that generate enough energy for residential consumption and ensure that any excess energy generated flow back into electricity grids, allowing homeowners to earn energy bill credit.
These grid-connected residential systems vary in production capacities depending on the energy requirements of each household as well as how much space can be allotted for solar panels.
Homes that are located in remote areas, on the other hand, make use of stand-alone solar energy systems. These systems can also be supplemented with small windpower.
Apart from systems that generate solar energy for homes, there are other solar products that are beneficial for residential use. These include solar hot water systems& blankets, solar pool heaters and blankets, and solar-powered lighting(solatube) for indoor and outdoor use.( solar lighting )
Definition of “Sustainability”
Sustainability is the ability to maintain a certain status or process in existing systems. The most frequent use of the term “sustainability” is connected to biological or human systems in the context of ecology. The ability of an ecosystem to function and maintain productivity for a prolonged period is also sustainability.
Living a sustainable lifestyle is one way to help. Let’s talk about what sustainability has to with ecology, recycling, water, and more.
Keeping an Eye on the Present and the Future
The most internationally accepted definition affirms that sustainability means “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
As applied to systems sustainability becomes an increasingly complex proposition. In the fields of agriculture and energy sources there can be a multitude of levels involved in the effort to make these sustainable. In the management of bio systems such as forests, wetlands, and prairies sustainability can include supervision, legislation, and even enforcement of regulations.
More and more scientific evidence is being gathered that we are using up natural resources at a rate that cannot be maintained. It is becoming plain that a huge and previously uncoordinated effort must be implemented into a concerted drive to control the rate of our consumption of natural resources. We must live in a sustainable manner and resources must be used only at a rate which can be replenished.
Taking Ownership As Creators
Taking care of our environment should be the first priority for all of our society. Our efforts toward sustainability should not only be for the present generation but for all the generations to come. Ideally this should be more than a desire on our part rather than an obligation. But sometimes just acting in ways that are regulated under law allows our consciousness to develop to the point where we are passionate about our path. Most of us do not practice this & tend to look the other way at these types of problems, especially if it is in a foreign country.
Tips For Living Green
Living green means to reduce your impact on environment by living an eco-friendly life style. In other words, living an eco-friendly, sustainable life is the best practice we can undertake to save our planet. It requires some sacrifice and positive actions on our part. But going green all at once is almost an impossible task for anyone.
The right way to do it is by taking a pledge to make a new healthy change every month. If you do that for just a year, you’ll be amazed at your contribution towards cleaner and greener environment and set an example for others to follow.
The 4 R’s
The key elements for green living are: Rethink, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. How these fundamental rules can help you in saving Mother Nature is explained below:
• Rethink: Awareness is the foremost step in this concern. So before buying any product carefully analyze how green it is. When we stop buying products that are harmful for environment, companies will stop manufacturing them.
• Reuse: There are many things which can be reused instead of being thrown away. So, before you decide to throw something away, think carefully how it can be reused. It can greatly help in decreasing precious landfill spaces. Reusing a plastic bag or turning over a piece of printing paper and printing on the other side makes a big difference to our environment. Eventually, every small change will go on to make a big impact.
• Reduce: Reduce your consumption of water, electricity and gasoline to whatever extent possible. Avoid unnecessary waste of these resources. You should strive hard to utilize renewable sources of energy instead of overburdening depleting natural resources.
• Recycle: Lastly, recycle as much as possible. The recycling process helps conserve raw materials and energy that manufacturers would otherwise use in producing new products. It also helps lessen the pollution that may result from waste disposal. Recycling keeps plastics and glass out of our landfills. Plastics and PET can take over 400 years to biodegrade and glass can take up to one million years.
By following these basic rules you can not only benefit the environment but also save money in most cases.
Some daily good habits that you can cultivate to reduce your environmental impact in the home, at work and in business are given as under:
• Start by purchasing organic (naturally grown) fruits and vegetables. As no pesticides are used in growing them so they are better for the environment. Nonetheless, always support your local farmers at your local farmers market. Also decrease your meat consumption
• Cut down on fuel usage. Try walking short distances instead of taking your car. Consider carpooling or taking public transportation systems, such as buses whenever you can. This can help to reduce air pollution to a great extent. And if you need to purchase a new vehicle consider getting a green one with at least 30mpg or some electric portion, or even natural gas powered.
• Recycle household items. Give away or donate old clothes and items. Also use rechargeable batteries.
• Composting is another excellent green practice. Use compost instead of buying fertilizers from stores. Never use your sinks garbage disposal!
• Use your own canvas bag every time you go for grocery shopping. Do not accept the plastic or paper bags that the store offers.
• Investing in water-saving showerheads can help you conserve water and simultaneously reduce you water bill. You can find these low-flow types online or at environmental friendly product stores.
• Consider buying things in bulk. It saves you money and requires less packaging materials.
• Save energy by installing a programmable thermostat to heat and air condition your home. Use light bulbs that are Energy Star CFL or LED
• Pure soap is biodegradable and breaks down completely. Choose a soap that is pure. Avoid soaps with synthetic scents or colors.
Though there are countless other ways to help protect the environment, you can start by undertaking above mentioned tips and make earth a better place to live.