Posted: October 17th, 2013
Solar energy is a source of energy that utilizes the sun’s energy and light in providing heat, light, electricity, hot water and even cooling systems for homes, businesses and for industrial use (Maczulak, 14). The world depends on energy to run most of its activities including transport, communication and health. There are many sources of energy such as hydroelectric, geothermal, wind power and bio fuel. However, some of these energy sources have a negative effect on the environment and pose a threat to human life now and in the future. This destruction is in the form of environmental pollution. In the recent past, the environment has suffered from the activities of human beings with regard to their use of dangerous energy sources.
Environmental pollution is the discharge of energy and other harmful material into water, land, or air, which leads to short-term or long-term destruction on the earth’s ecological balance. For instance, sources such as coal cause pollution through emissions of harmful gases. If these emissions reach a certain level, they become harmful to the environment and can cause health complications to human beings. The worst effect so far of energy pollution has been global warming. It is because of these negative effects of energy that a new form of alternative energy sources emerged. These new sources are environmentally friendly and are often referred to as green energy.
Green energy is derived from natural sources such as sunlight, rainwater, wind, plants and geothermal heat, a factor that makes them renewable. Due to their natural abundance, they can be replenished easily and are always available. These sources have a lesser effect on the environment given that they are natural and therefore cause minimal pollution. It is also cheaper and applicable in all the areas where other energy sources like coal and oil are used including industries and in motor vehicles. This has been made possible with technological advancements with the aim of reducing pollution, providing cost friendly energy and making it available for everyone. Solar energy is a type of green energy and is the most prevalent. Technology has made it accessible to most people and additionally made it inexpensive.
There are various ways to harness solar power. One such way is solar thermal conversion also known as solar water heating (Benduhn, 39). Conversion here means changing something from one form to another. Through this method, sunlight is tapped using mirrors or reflectors and used to create heat by heating up a fluid in this case water. This method uses solar panels containing water to trap sunlight, which then heats the water in the panels. Glass panels are usually painted black to facilitate maximum absorption of the sun’s energy and thereafter positioned in a manner that also ensures that heat is captured extensively. The sun’s energy is enough to heat water to extremely high temperatures, which enables it to produce more heat. This makes it useful for application in large industries, which then have to invest in more panels.
One crucial advantage is that if produced in large scale it can facilitate storage of the sun’s energy to be used later even without sunshine. In addition, the steam from the heated water can be used to provide electricity other than being used in hot water supplies. This method is also simple with the results being extensive. When applied at home, it helps in significantly reducing the cost of electricity and providing warmth.
Photoelectric cells are also used in converting solar power. It directly converts the sun’s energy into electricity, a method referred to as photovoltaic conversion. The term photo is derived from a Greek word that means light. Voltaic is a word named after an Italian physicist Alessandro Volta and means to produce electric current. When combined, they refer to the creation of electrical energy using light in this case that from the sun. Photovoltaic or photoelectric cells produce electricity whenever they are exposed to light (Green, 114). Their design consists of panels, layered with different materials. The reason behind using two different materials is that one becomes positively charged and the other is negatively charged when exposed to light elements, thus creating electricity.
Several factors influence the amount of electricity generated by the above cells. They include the size of the cell, the amount of surface exposed to the sun at any given time and the strength of the sun’s rays, which are dependent on weather and time of day, and the length of time of exposure of the device to the sun. Additionally, obstructions if any to the source of light such as clouds and dirt are also considered. Whenever the sun is brighter, more energy is produced and devices with larger panels produce more electricity due to an increased surface area. The same applies when cells are exposed for a longer period to the sun. Areas around the equator are more effective in terms of production, compared to those in the arctic regions. However, obstructions to the sun’s rays result in lower production of electrical energy whereas more is produced in tines when the sun’s intensity is at its highest.
The amount of energy produced by solar cells depends on their purpose. This is because the levels required to run different items or places vary. For instance, the electricity needed to run smaller equipment may be less compared to that required for large-scale use such as in industries or in running big apparatus such as motor vehicles. However a number of cells can be connected to produce more energy when need arises. Many companies are moving towards the new trend that has become popular due to its efficiency.
There are numerous advantages of solar energy, some of which are already documented above. The main one is its positive effect on the environment. In an immensely polluted and degraded environment, solar energy emerges as a cure. It serves to ease the burden of the hazardous effects on the environment by harmful energy. This is through the people redirecting their choice of energy source to this more appropriate and natural source. Of course, this requires some awareness on the negative effects of fossil fuels to create energy without which change would not be achieved. People all over the world need to be educated on the importance of safe energy and the urgent need to save the environment through use of alternative energy sources.
The fact that solar energy is natural is beneficial enough. The abundance associated with it is a major advantage. This means it is readily available and can be saved for future use in case of weather changes. Its renew ability places it a notch higher than other energy sources which can be depleted. It is cheaper to maintain once the initial costs have been incurred. Most solar power systems have a long life span of between thirty and forty years, and can be designed to suit special needs. For instance, a person can restrict solar energy to certain parts of their house and eliminate others.
Solar energy has a number of disadvantages though minimal. One such challenge is the initial cost of setting up equipment required for it to work. These costs depend on the extent to which the lighting or energy is used. This implies that large-scale initiatives cost more than the small-scale ones. Solar panels are expensive but many only perceive this as a small price to pay compared to the benefits they will reap out of using solar energy. Besides, the money is compensated by the long life span of solar power systems.
Use of water in solar thermal conversion often poses a challenge especially in areas where it is a scarce commodity. Arid areas in particular suffer from strains to their local water resources whenever this method of converting solar energy is used. This implies that their desire to utilize this form of energy may be limited unless they use the alternative method of photovoltaic conversion. Large-scale production of solar energy requires an expansive land, which may not be readily available for use. This is also a limitation to its development. Firms that produce this energy on commercial level need large tracts of land, which raises concerns about the potential, risk such projects pose to natural habitats. This is because people may need to be evacuated to provide land for such projects. In order to solve this problem, energy projects are being started on contaminated or wastelands and mine sites where there are no human populations.
Photovoltaic panels are said to contain harmful materials which could be released to the environment through damage of a solar panel, or if it is not disposed properly. Using this method of conversion is also risky because concentration of solar energy systems may require the use of potentially harmful materials such as oils. The use of these materials creates possibility of spills that eventually cause harm to the environment through pollution of various aspects of the natural environment. Eventually, human beings will be affected in different ways resulting from environmental pollution.
Solar energy is intermittent. This means that it is only available when the sun is shining. The most affected times are the night, cold seasons and areas where the sun rarely shines but whose population is seeking an alternative energy source (Ogunseitan, 17). In spite of technological efforts being made to improve this phenomenon by developing storage programs, it is still a challenge to those wishing to adopt it as a permanent energy source. It times of bad weather, the production of solar energy goes down and if it persists longer than expected the stored energy may not be enough to cater for the user’s needs.
A challenge also emerges in the form of obstructions, which affect the amount of energy being produced at any given point in time. These are in the form of clouds, dirt and other industrial pollutants. An area’s landscape and its buildings can also be an impediment to the amount of rays reaching the solar panels. This is the case where there are tall buildings or the surrounding area is full of tall trees or is hilly. Much attention has to be paid to the location of solar panels to ensure that their performance is not affected. Solar panels are bulky, especially the ones used for large-scale production. They therefore require more expertise in setting them up and a large area to accommodate them.
However new designs are being developed to ensure that such effects are overcome. This is regarding the future of solar energy. Technology experts are gearing up for an improvement of solar energy with specificity in design of solar panels, initial costs and better energy storage methods. Needless to mention, it has proved to be the most popular substitute energy source in the world. More people are embracing solar energy in replacement of their previous energy sources, which have become expensive with the tough economic times (Castellano, 55). It is accessible even to the remotest of areas provided the sun shines and the people have been educated on its advantages. Those who previously lacked electricity now have it courtesy of this cheap alternative. The future has more in store for users of solar energy.
Benduhn, Tea. Solar Power. Pleasantville, NY: Weekly Reader Pub, 2009. Print.
Castellano, Robert N. Solar Panel Processing. Paris: Éd. des Archives contemporaines, 2010. Print.
Green, Martin A. Third Generation Photovoltaics: Advanced Solar Energy Conversion. Berlin: Springer, 2003. Print.
Maczulak, Anne E. Renewable Energy: Sources and Methods. New York: Facts On File, 2010. Print.
Ogunseitan, Oladele. Green Health: An A-to-Z Guide. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications, 2011. Print.
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