In this section we will be looking at one of the many alternatives to fossil fuels – Solar. In it we hope to provide a great deal of useful information about harnessing this clean, free, renewable energy resource including how we harness solar energy, the uses to which we can put it and current limitations affecting its take-up, along with the advantages and disadvantages using solar power.
Solar Power is an inexhaustible source of energy. Literally meaning ‘from the sun’, the source of this energy will continue to be available while the sun is the center of our solar system – somewhere in the region of another 5 billion years or so. Enough solar energy from the sun reaches the earth each and every hour to provide mankind’s entire energy needs for a whole year, and yet we are so far fairly inefficient at harnessing it and putting it to work for us. The biggest area at present in terms of our utilisation of the sun’s energy is by far that of Solar Photovoltaics – in other words, electricity generation from the sun’s energy – and this is something that is being carried out both on a commercial level in terms of solar power stations (solar farms, solar arrays, heliostats) and also on a domestic small-scale level in terms of roof-mounted solar photovoltaic panels (Solar PV panels).
The single biggest factor limiting uptake of solar energy at present is the comparative inefficiency of solar photovoltaic panels. At present, the best (and therefore most expensive) panels can only claim an efficiency of about 19% – that is to say that 19% of the energy that hits them is converted into usable electricity. This hasn’t increased dramatically in the last decade or so despite a great deal of research and development, and most of the panels that would be used in a typical home installation have efficiencies in the 10%-15% range. There is no doubt that the sun is a tremendous energy resource and that if we are able to increase the efficiency of solar panels, it will drive their implementation and cut production costs and installation costs drastically.
Solar energy is also used commonly used for heating and in many warm countries such as Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and Israel it can be found in around 30-40% of homes. It is known as both SWH (Solar Water Heating) and SHW (Solar Hot Water). Its use for water heating is not limited to hot countries however, and usable SWH systems can even be found here in the UK, generally mounted on the roof of a property and still making a valuable contribution to reducing fuel costs despite our generally less than clement weather.
Solar energy is everywhere. At any one time, somewhere in the world a group or community of people will be making use of solar energy in one way or another. Arguably solar energy is more useful in certain areas of the world where there is a temperate climate which produces high levels of sunshine because to be able to harness solar power it is necessary for the sun to shine. However, technology is advancing in great strides that allow solar panels and cells to generate energy when the sun is shining and store the energy for use during night-time or when a solar source is unavailable.
The production of solar power is still in its infancy but given time it has the potential to become and incredibly important source of power for the world, with the added bonus that it is a clean source of power with no greenhouse gases emitted during the production of power.
To find out more about solar energy, please visit the following in depth sections -