Solar energy

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Solar energy is created and used by harnessing the sun's heat and light. The sun is able to generate enough solar energy in one minute to supply Earth’s entire population with energy for a year [1]. The energy is stored in what are called photovoltaic cells formed from semiconductor material. This type of mechanism is found in basic solar panels on people’s homes as well as on spacecraft and other machines in need of immediate energy. Photovoltaic cells produce energy when the Sun's heat hits the cells and cause electrons to be shaken free from their atoms. Another mechanism to harness solar energy is using the Sun's heat to boil water, which then generates electricity through steam-turning turbines.

Benefits of solar energy

Cost of Solar Panel Installation. Credit: USGS [1]

Solar energy is an unlimited fuel source that is safe for the environment because it does not cause pollution. The mechanics of solar technology are adaptable and able to generate solar energy in complex conditions. Solar cells and technology are capable of providing energy to structures such as modern skyscrapers, space satellites, as well as be stored deep beneath mountains. Since a little over a decade ago, the use of solar energy has increased 20%.[2] This is a result of greater efficiency in producing solar energy as well as lower cost. Solar energy is so effective that a person will be reimbursed for the cost of solar panels within a couple years [3].

Issues, technology, and advances

Ivanpah Solar Power Facility. Credit: USGS [2]
Solar Panels. Credit: USGS [3]

Due to the current concerns with climate change, people and governments are interested in using clean energy. The Obama administration is working to help middle class Americans have access to solar energy solutions. Steps are being taken to use solar energy throughout federal housing. Charities and investors have already donated over $500 million towards these efforts.[4] The world’s largest solar thermal energy plant is called Ivanpah and began operating in 2014 in the Mojave Desert in California. More than 100,000 mirrors are used to focus sunlight on massive boilers containing water, which then generates electricity with steam turbines. In addition to advancements in solar energy technology, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management declared that 10,000 megawatts should be used to produce renewable energy such as solar in civic regions within the next 5 years [5].

Issues with solar energy are that it cannot be produced at night and weather conditions can affect its capability. Environmentalists fear that the building of large-scale solar thermal energy fields is causing damage to the biosphere in those areas. However, officials in charge of these facilities and advocates for renewable energy urge that lowering our carbon footprint with benefit the overall atmosphere and biosphere.

History of solar energy

The first use of solar energy was in the 18th century. In 1767 a Swiss scientist by the name Horace de Saussure created a machine that would harness the Sun's heat to boil water. This was the first solar thermal collector. This technology was later made commercially available to the public in 1891 and became popular in many California homes. Shortly after the creation of solar thermal collectors, the technology necessary to create electricity from solar energy was developed. Selenium photovoltaic cells made it possible to convert the Sun’s light into useful electricity. Although the process of this exchange was not understood until the early 20th century, when Albert Einstein discussed the “photoelectric effect”. In the 1950’s, photovoltaic cells began to be used in satellites and spacecraft due to their durability [6].

See also

References

External Links

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Solar energy
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