Solar energy, in the most basic term, is energy produced by the sun. It is in the form of radiation which gets generated into electricity easily.
How it works?
Photovoltaic cells or PV cells directly converts light energy into electricity. Photovoltaic means light and electricity. When sunlight falls on the PV cell, the photons of light stimulates the electrons in the cell causing them to flow, thereby generating electricity.
Solar energy is also created through solar panels, Solar Thermal System or the parabolic Trough System.
Solar Energy is undoubtedly ‘the Energy of the future’ as it is in perpetuity.
According to one of the United Nation government surveys, it is estimated that around 173,000 terawatts of energy is being received by the earth which is 10,000 times more than required. If proper headways are made than this energy could very well serve the entire energy requirement of the world.
Benefits of using Solar Energy in the long run:
Solar energy is environment-friendly. Higher production and consumption of Solar Energy will facilitate the availability of energy to future generations.
Fossil fuel is the most widely used energy. Use of solar power will lead to remarkable decrease in the demand and usage of fossil fuel which in turn will check pollution and consecutively check global warming. 87% of the carbon dioxide emissions come from the use of fossil fuels which includes coal, natural gas and oil. Higher consumption of these sources of energy has led to rise in the concentration of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere.
Solar energy produces no emission. It is estimated that around 0.75 to 1 ton of CO2 gets offset from one megawatt hour of electricity. So, solar energy will check global warming on a large scale. Also by opting for solar energy, country’s reliance on fossil fuels and import will reduce drastically which will promote higher economic growth.
Fossils fuels being non- renewable energy may one day get depleted. So it is better to switch to higher and everlasting one.
Another benefit of solar energy system is on real estate. It is believed that cost of real state will zoom with the built in renewable energy source. As vast area or land space would be required to develop large scale solar farms, land owners and farmers would drive good bargains and fetch upscale prices. They could give the land on lease or sell on outright.
Places receiving more heat like the deserts will get further higher value. Real estate market will grow by leaps and bounds.
There will be rise in the demand for voltage cable too as solar farms would need to be connected to the centralized grid.
US witnessed a remarkable rise in employment opportunities because of the growth of Solar Power industry. According to the statistics provided, About 374,000 people were employed in solar energy as compared to 187,000 people working in the fossil fuel sector. Solar energy has added around 73,615 new jobs. This includes jobs in transmission, distribution, storage, installing, marketing, retailing etc.
Installing a solar power system at home or work place would create self reliance in terms of non – dependency on outer sources esp. electric power for energy consumption. This will save energy and also curtail monthly expenses.
The grid tied solar electric system allows you to sell excess power back to the company thus making your meter run backwards.
Many countries and federal government are offering financial incentives to reduce the cost of installing solar electric system in order to promote its usage. Setting up a solar system is a bit expensive but after that it costs nothing. Energy is produced at zero cost.
Consumption of Solar Energy in USA:
Solar energy consumed in US amounts to five-tenths of 1 percent of the total energy. This is comparatively lower than what is consumed from other renewable sources of wind, biomass, hydro electric etc.
It includes both utility-scale solar power plants and local distributed generation primarily from rooftop photovoltaics. U.S had 40 gigawatts of installed photovoltaic capacity in 2016, which was almost double of the previous year.
US is one of the first users and promoters of solar power energy. California SEGS thermal plant is said to be the oldest in the world.
The 280 MW Solana Generating Station in Arizona at the time of installation was the largest parabolic trough plant in the world. It was also US’s first solar plant having molten salt thermal energy storage.
Since 2008 installation of solar energy system have grown seventeen fold from 1.2 GW to estimated 30 GW. The cost of PV panels has gone down by over 60% and the overall cost of installation of the energy system too have reduced by more than 50% creating increased number of consumers.
According to latest report, a record amount of solar panels were installed on roof tops of homes in the first quarter of this year itself.
In US, large numbers of solar plants were installed in big solar farms away from the city, where the electricity was sold to utilities and utilities distributed it to the consumers through power grid. In the recent quarter, 729 MW worth of solar panels were installed for utilities as compared to 473 MW of solar energy on rooftops.
Installation of power for personal use has leaped by 70% and has moved from just four states to ten states. The top ten solar states of US are:
California, Arizona, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada, Massachussetts, New York, Hawaii, Colorado and Texas.
The Department of Energy projects installing solar power systems to I million homes by 2020. As the installation cost is declining day by day, number of solar powered homes is projected to rise to 4 million by the same year.
Many states have set individual goals with regard to solar power installation. Large scale plants are likely to be build all over the US, in the near future.
Upcoming research and development:
Solar Energy is ‘The Future Energy.’ Till date only a figment of the solar resource has been exploited. Researchers all over the globe are diligently working on developing, discovering or inventing new ways and technologies to further enlarge the scope of solar power. Some of the fields they are working on are as follow:
Some of the prominent headways have been made in materials called Perovskites. The research indicates perovskites to be as efficient as silicon but comparatively cheaper, lighter and easy to work with.
Whether or not perovskites will replace silicon and aggregate efficiency is still not known. Perovskites are found to decompose rapidly. Research regarding this problem is also underway. Scientists of China and Switzerland together have invented a novel way to form perovskites which could help attain the theoretical maximum 31% efficiency. However it is still in research stage.
Photovoltaic paint made from semiconducting nano particles were developed by the Notre Dame University. The material is not yet competent enough to replace PV panels, but the process of manufacturing it is simple.
Solar Thermal Fuel:
MIT research team developed solar thermal fuel which can store solar energy internally and sustainably over a long time period of time with the unique feature of releasing the heat ‘on demand.’
Another research has developed thermal fuel like a transparent film which can be applied on car windshields where it can melt the ice at night using the energy absorbed in the day. Solar thermal fuel shows promising signs and is most likely to revolutionize the energy market in the near future.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago has come up with artificial photosynthesis- a process in which artificial leaves converts atmospheric carbon dioxide into syngas with the use of sunlight. Syngas can be converted into fuels with the additional benefit of removing CO2.
Energy supplementing trees:
Researches in Finland are working on creating a tree which can store solar energy in the leaves. Energy thus produced could be used for cell phones and small appliances.
Power from Space:
Japanese Space Agency is working on tapping higher efficiency of solar energy by trapping the resource from the source itself .i.e. as close as possible. The research if successful, would revolutionize the whole thing.
Researchers have found bacteria which when used in solar cells could easily power wireless devices. Such cells would prove beneficial in remote areas where batteries need not be replaced frequently.
Another research by Israel and Germany researchers has been on using biomass as a fuel to create artificial photosynthetic machines which would convert sunlight into energy and which could be stored for later use.
Panels that can float:
Countries which lack space for solar farms can opt for floating panels. A trial farm has been installed in U.K and plans are underway to install it in other countries as well.
With huge amount of funds being spent on research and development, and with top minds working ceaselessly in order to tap higher and larger use of this resource, solar power is unquestionably ‘the desired energy of the future.’ If you are a person who is conscious about the environment and sustainable development, then solar energy is your best friend. You can install solar panels and utilise solar energy widely in your home and workplace. Solar panels do not compromise on the quality of power they give. You can be assured that your home will light up the same at a lower cost.