Solar Power: The Natural Choice
Energy availability and use has become one of the most high profile and controversial topics of date. Human excess, depleting sources, rising costs and environmental concerns have triggered an energy revolution rooted in the ideals of sustainability, conservation and environmental cohesion. This revolution has sparked intensifying research into untapped energy sources such as wind, water and even the sun itself. Utilizing naturally occurring energy sources like solar power and converting their potential into energy that can be used to power nations, has become the focus of our planet’s current alternative energy movement. However, in order to convince the populace of the value of these alternative sources and the costly apparatuses that unlock their usability, consumers need to be educated about not only the sustainability of the source, but also the practical applicability and personal benefit of its use. The following paper will explore the benefits, drawbacks and long term availability of alternative energy through exploration of one of its most popular forms, solar power.
Solar power is the most abundant, yet least utilized, sources of renewable energy. For many people the thought of solar energy immediately inspires thoughts of shiny solar panels that collect energy from the sun, but wind, biomass and hydro power are all forms of solar energy. Wind is created through differences in temperature caused by the sun. Rainfall is created by water evaporated by the sun. This rainfall feeds the rivers that are sources for hydro power. The most direct utilization of solar power however, is through the use of solar collectors, photovoltaics, and solar thermal generators.
Solar collectors are used primarily to provide heating of spaces and the production of hot water and utilize “flat glass-covered plates over a black background” to heat circulating water. (Botkin & Keller, 2009). In addition, a transparent cover prevents wind and breezes from carrying the collected heat away. A reinforced frame along with this protective cover protects the absorber from adverse weather conditions. Collectors can cost between $1700 and $200 per square meter depending on the intended use and quality of manufacturing materials. However, a good collector does not guarantee a good solar system. Rather, all components should be of high quality and similar capacity and strength.
The concept of photovoltaics was first discovered by French physicist Edmond Becquerel in 1839. Becquerel discovered the process of using sunlight to produce an electric current in a solid material. Although it took more than another century to truly understand this process, scientists eventually learned that the photoelectric or photovoltaic effect caused certain materials to convert light energy into electrical energy at the atomic level. Photovoltaics, which are the “poster boys” for solar electric power production, use thin layers of semiconductors and solid-state electronics to convert sunlight into electricity. Simple photovoltaic systems have been used in handheld products such as calculators and wristwatches. More complicated systems provide power for communications satellites and water pumps, as well as the lights, appliances, and machines in some homes and workplaces. Many road and traffic signs are also powered by photovoltaics. In many cases, photovoltaic power is the least expensive form of electricity for the previous mentioned tasks.
Unlike photovoltaics, solar thermal generators use lenses and reflectors to concentrate the sun’s heat vice its light to create energy. Collection of the sun’s heat can be accomplished in a variety of different ways. Solar Parabolic Troughs for example, consist of curved mirrors which form troughs that focus the sun's energy on a pipe. A fluid is then circulated through the pipes which drive a conventional generator to create