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Solar Energy and the Promise of a Brighter Future

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Energy is the mainstay of any civilized society. The systematic conversion of energy through various stages has enhanced growth and generally improved human comfort. The key role energy plays in industrial development affects a nation’s Gross Domestic Product index and its consumption is generally accepted as an index for measuring the nation’s economic development. It is therefore not surprising that leading energy consumers of this world are the developed nations.

Energy is best understood as a concept rather than a definition However, the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines energy as ‘the property of matter which manifests as capacity to perform work’. There are largely 2 categories of energy these are Renewable and Non renewable Energy.  Non-renewable Energy is energy that comes from a source with a lifespan such as fossil fuel, natural gas and uranium. Renewable energy on the other hand is energy whose source cannot be depleted. Examples are solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and hydro energy.

With energy consumption being the buzzword in developing economies around the world, fears of an energy crisis looming ahead are not totally unfounded. The non-renewable nature of fossil fuels makes complete dependence on these for future energy needs a very dicey affair. The search for these forms of energy has degraded our environment and the by-product of its use is also not friendly. With the current consumption rate of non-renewable energy an irreversibly damaged planet may be the end result. Renewable energy sources are the best bet in avoiding such a scenario and what can be a better renewable resource than the sun?

While proven reserve of non-renewable energy is limited, the sun is a huge unlimited source of energy. In fact, the rate of flow of energy from the sun to the earth is thousands of times greater than the rate of energy consumption globally.  Again, renewable energy particularly that of the sun is clean while   conventional energy has attendant negative impact on health and the environment. Although the high-energy content and conversion efficiency of fossil fuel makes them look more attractive to harness than renewable energy, they will eventually get depleted hence the need to consider the inexhaustible solar alternative to preserve the balance of life against evil days.

OVERVIEW OF SOLAR ENERGY

Every day, enough solar energy strikes the planet to meet the world’s energy needs for up to 5 years.  In an era where global warming and CO2 build-up are of critical concern, solar energy can become an incredibly valuable solution for helping to protect our planet. The technology is broadly categorized as either passive solar or active solar depending on the way they capture, convert and distribute  the energy.

Passive system: A passive solar system uses the light and heat from the sun directly for heating, cooling and lighting.  The best approach to this system is to inculcate it with the design of a new building to leverage the power of the sun.  Nonetheless, existing homes can be retrofitted to better leverage passive heating and cooling.

Active System: Active solar systems are those that involve the active use of technology to harvest the energy of the sun.  This includes the use of both photovoltaic  (PV) panels to capture the sun’s energy, concentrated solar power systems and solar water heating systems.

The unlimited abundance and economics of solar energy are compelling, particularly as the costs and availability of conventional oil and gas continue to be unstable. It is therefore pertinent to explore the viability of the technology for the future and the possibility of a shift on the reliance of conventional energy to solar energy.

FUTURE PROSPECTS OF SOLAR ENERGY

There are quite a few challenges hampering industrial uses of solar energy. According to International Solar Energy, the main challenges are its inconsistency and low efficiency. The sun is only available during the day thus making power generation at night a challenge. However, advances in technology are perfecting design of storage units where excess energy could be stored during high solar intensity and released when intensity drops. Also, scientists have just recently invented a plastic solar cell that can convert solar energy to electrical energy even on a cloudy day. Researchers are holding this futuristic view that plastic solar panels could be laid across deserts to provide the entire planet with enough clean energy.

There are 3 key attributes that gives solar energy a bright future. Firstly, it is environmentally friendly. Exploration and use of conventional energy has introduced many harmful pollutants into the atmosphere and contributed to environmental problems like global warming, pollution and acid rain. Solar energy on the other hand is clean energy. Statistics has it that just a million solar roofs could reduce carbon emissions equal to the annual emission from 850,000 cars. Secondly, it is renewable and this implies that the challenges of power will never occur as long as the sun continues to shine.  Finally, solar cells have a life span of about 30 years and contain no moving parts.  This makes them highly reliable and almost maintenance free.

It is believed that consumers with solar power systems in their homes could save up to 60 percent on their utility bills; These savings will exceed the original cost of a system in about 10 years. Even after that, the customer could still save thousands of dollars more in the lifespan of the equipment. The Australian Governments has taken the giant step and is offering annual rebates and tax incentives to customers who install solar systems in their homes. Considering these enumerated benefits, it is time to sound the clarion call for all governments to look into the future, analyse the benefits and embrace the  campaign for a shift to solar technology for a brighter future.

 

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