The Saving Power of Solar Energy
Article by Gary Davies
And God said, “Let there be light: and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).
Solar Energy has been a friend and ally to us since the beginning of the Earth. The sun provides us with heat and light night and day. Though we don’t see it for approximately half of our 24-hour day – the sun is at the other side of the Earth then giving its gracious heat and light energy to those who live there – plants, animals, microbes and hybrids.
Although always there for us to use, we are able to utilise only a minuscule fraction of the total available energy derived from the sun. For most people, solar energy is equated to solar electricity now gaining popular use because of stepped up advertisements of hybrid and “green” cars. The trend started with the oil embargo in 1973 and the 1979 energy crisis threatening the stability of supply of fossil fuel that powers most of today’s electric plants. This led to the reorganisation of most countries’ energy policies. Installation of photovoltaic (PV) units, considered a supply-driven or active solar utilisation, rapidly increased but slackened when oil prices went down again in the early 1980s.
Global warming concerns and supply issues with natural gas and oil revitalised production and installation of PVs to unprecedented levels and steadily grew at an annual average of 40% between 2000 and 2010 but could not yet replace the current power supply system using petroleum products because of economic reasons. As of 2010, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the cost of solar panels per watt is .80 but predicted an estimated unit cost decline to around .50 by the end of 2011.
There are other ways by which solar energy can be harnessed to save on power consumption from traditional power sources, i.e., rock oil-based-fuel-powered electrical generation and distribution plants. With inherent common sense, man even from early civilisations has been using the sun’s energy for practical applications in terms of daylighting, shading and strategic positioning of buildings and trees. Architectural design and other building attributes have also been considered to optimally use the sun’s heat and light energy. The early Chinese and Greeks, for instance, employed southward orientation of their buildings to optimally benefit from the sun’s light and warmth. This is an example of passive solar use through architecture. Producing solar hot water, practised until now, is another.
In today’s setting, passive employment of solar energy is practically illustrated with counter-acting the high temperatures of “urban heat islands (UHIs)” due to low-albedo and high heat-capacity properties of asphalt and cement. Painting buildings white and planting of trees in UHI areas effectively reduces temperatures by 3 C.
Scientists are day-to-day conducting research and studies that provide data and information for innovations that can one day give us cheap solar power source and may successfully mitigate, if not completely reverse, the threat of potentially lethal global warming consequences.
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