Since ancient times the sun has been considered a source of energy, both spiritual and otherwise. The Incas based their whole existence around the sun and its power, regarding the sun as the supreme being and the basis for their entire religion. The sun’s importance to us has once again come into focus, yet, despite the abundance of energy from the sun available to us, only approximately 10% of that available energy is currently being put to use by mankind. One of the problems preventing increased usage of solar energy is the lack of awareness of not only how to use it, but also the possibilities it represents as a source of sustainable power. We will attempt to address those issues here.
In The Beginning
From the time the Earth began, the sun has been an ever-present in the formation and development of life and nature here on the planet. Many people may not be aware of this, but solar energy actually is the source of many natural phenomena, such as waves and wind. Energy from the sun has been used throughout the centuries to provide heat, sustenance and power, but harnessing that energy correctly and efficiently has been a major challenge and one that we are gradually coming to grips with.
Technology and The Sun
The sun produces an almost limitless amount of energy. This energy has to be harnessed by technology in order to be converted into something that is usable by mankind. There are two types of solar technology that can be used to do this, one referred to as passive, the other active. How we differentiate between the two depends on how the energy from the sun is harnessed and subsequently used.
Active solar technologies trap solar energy and then perform some type of action to improve the collection, storage, or distribution of that energy. The use of solar (photovoltaic) panels is a fairly well-known example of active solar technology. Passive solar technologies simply trap solar energy – a greenhouse is a good example of passive solar technology.
Electricity From The Sun
We are all familiar with the term “solar panel”; solar panels convert the energy from the sun into actual electrical current through what is known as the photovoltaic effect. The energy produced by solar panels can then be used to power small appliances, an entire house or business, and, maybe, in the future, entire cities. We have the technology – applying it and putting it to everyday use is another matter.
Dilemma, Solution, And Economics.
The main concerns most people have as far as getting started using solar energy are, usually in this order, cost and the availability of solar energy at night.
The first concern, cost, is a very valid concern due to the initial cost of installing a solar energy system. However, those costs can be offset by substantial rebates currently available from both the Federal government and many State governments, of which many people are unaware when they first begin investigating the possibility of using solar energy. Also, the cost of solar equipment is gradually decreasing as the technology becomes more and more sophisticated. Further discussion of cost is beyond the scope of this document, but it is not the show-stopper most people think it is.
The second, availability of solar energy, can be resolved by either the use of a battery to store excess energy or by using the excess energy created during the day and stored on your utility’s grid. Again, a valid concern, but one that can be addressed relatively easily.
Today, with the rising costs of electricity, volatile oil prices, and the rapidly decreasing availability of fossil fuels in general, people are becoming more and more interested in looking at alternative sources of energy, and solar energy in particular. As stated above, solar technology equipment is becoming cheaper and cheaper to manufacture, so the initial cost is becoming more and more affordable. But, probably most importantly, the long-term savings for both the consumer and the environment can and will be life-changing once solar energy is adopted broadly.