Ethical Energy: A Brief Look at Solar Energy

August 19, 2018

 

Every time humans dig the earth looking for fossil fuels and spend billions of dollars to synthesis the energy source, they are disregarding the natural and abundant alternative energy source: solar energy. The Earth receives 174 petawatts (PW)(PW = 1015 W) of incoming solar energy, with 30% of the total solar energy being reflected by the atmosphere, clouds, and rugged surface of the Earth. There are 70% of solar energy absorbed by the earth. [1] Although solar energy is the most abundant and cleaning source of energy, the solar energy capacity in 2017 was only 386 GW is predicted to only increase to 1213 GW by 2024. There is a lot of solar energy that is “wasted” and a vast plane of development space to design more efficient solar cells and solar panels. [2]

Figure [2]


Solar energy has been utilized by humans for centuries. In the early 7th century B.C.E., humans used sunlight to ignite fires with magnifying glass materials. Later, in the century B.C.E., Greeks and Romans lit torches for religious ceremonies through the use of mirrors. As demonstrated, sunlight was already in use long before the invention of solar panels.[3] In 1873, Willoughby Smith found that chemical element selenium had photo-conductive potential. Three years later in 1876, William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans discovered that selenium could be used to generate electricity. In 1953, Calvin Fuller, Gerald Pearson, and Daryl Chapin designed the silicon solar cell which could produce enough electricity and enable to run small electrical device. After the first solar cells were made commercially available in 1956, they were applied to a variety of devices; the USA and Soviet Union’s space programs in the 1950s and 1960s were powered by solar cell, and the cells began to show up on railroad crossings, cars, shingles installed on the roofs, etc.[4]

Let us take a look at how solar energy benefits our world. First off, solar energy is renewable and sustainable, unlike coal, oil, and natural gases. Solar energy is only bounded by the existence of the sun, which, according to scientists, will persist at least another 5 billion years. After people begin to increasingly rely on solar power, the usage of fossil fuels will decrease, bringing the added benefit of mitigating global warming. Solar cells also reduce electricity bills and require low maintenance fees. Installing a solar PV panel on your roof is likely to save you tens of thousands of dollars. The average 20-year saving for Americans who used solar panels is $20,000. In the sunny state of Hawaii, the projected saving of an individual using solar is nearly $65000![5]

Of course, nothing is ever perfect. There is still a lot of work to do in order to make efficient use use solar power. The most glaring problem we face is that we can only get solar power during the daytime. We need to create a means of obtaining energy to support us when the sun is down. Some have considered the possibility of storing solar energy in large batteries during the daytime for use at night. For that to be possible, however, much time and money would need to be spent on developing the batteries. For now, solar energy remains a niche practice waiting to be streamlined.[6]

 

[1]https://energyeducation.ca/encyclopedia/Solar_energy_to_the_Earth
[2]https://www.quora.com/How-much-solar-energy-does-the-world-use?no_redirect=1#

[3]https://news.energysage.com/the-history-and-invention-of-solar-panel-technology/
[4]https://www.experience.com/advice/careers/ideas/the-history-of-solar-power/
[5]https://www.greenmatch.co.uk/blog/2014/08/5-advantages-and-5-disadvantages-of-solar-energy
[6]https://cleantechnica.com/2013/10/08/advantages-disadvantages-solar-power/

 

Jin Xu is a graduate student at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken. He can be contacted at jinxu@smilesforlearning.org.

 

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