Why the Time for Solar Energy is Now
Guest post by: Philip J Reed, on behalf of Westwood College
Now more than ever, solar energy is ready for use on a large scale. As solar collection becomes more affordable while energy prices continue on their uptrend, the economics in its favor become more attractive. In addition, large-scale solar energy has the capability to put a dent in carbon emissions.
What Is Solar Power?
Large solar installations typically focus on generating power. The most common installation is a large array of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. These panels directly convert sunlight into electricity and have been installed in arrays generating 10′s and 100′s of megawatts (mW) of power. Other installations use mirrors to heat fluids or gasses to generate steam and turn turbines. Plants with capacities as high as 1,000 mW have already been approved for construction in the United States. In addition, plants of this type using molten salts can even generate electricity from solar power when the sun is not shining.
Solar generally remains relatively expensive to build compared with coal- or gas-fired generation plants. On the other hand, much like nuclear power, the cost to fuel a solar plant is minimal, with no fueling cost at all for PV installations. In addition, the Sandia National Laboratory estimates that the cost of building solar generation will be at parity with gas-fired plants by 2020. Since solar also requires no fuel, it will actually lower the price of power over the long run.
While most attention gets focused on solar power generation, solar energy has additional applications. Buildings with large skylights and windows take advantage of the sun’s light and heat to reduce energy consumption. Greenhouses, which predate most awareness of “green” issues, are another example of using the power of the sun to reduce energy costs. Solar water heating, which has been popular for homes and swimming pool for decades, is also gaining popularity in larger-scale applications.
The Advantages Of Solar Energy?
Solar’s key advantage has remained true since the development of the first PV panel in 1883 — solar energy is clean. To service the average American home consuming 10,654 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, a coal-fired plant will generate 22,501 pounds of carbon dioxide. Although natural gas is cleaner, it will still generate 13,605 pounds of carbon dioxide. A solar plant making the same 10,654 kWh generates no carbon dioxide at all. This benefit exists in addition to the fact that solar energy is completely renewable, while fossil fuels have limited supplies.
Solar energy has always been a good idea, but is now a necessity. Whether in the form of PV arrays on top of construction schools espousing the values they teach in their green building classes, as large greenhouses passively harnessing the sun’s power, or as gigawatt solar collector plants in the desert, the technology is here to stay. These advances can not only save money in the present, but can ultimately improve the world in the future.