Increasing awareness in the harmful effects of non-renewable energy, like fossil fuels, have made scientists nowadays to be inclined to developing an alternative way in utilizing renewable energy resources. Renewable resources like solar, wind, water and nuclear energy can be the key to eliminating if not, minimizing the use of non-renewable energy resources which can help the earth to have a breathing room. This renewable resource does not deplete and most of the time it is always present compared to non-renewable resources like fossil fuels. In this paper, discussion will be focused in solar energy, technological advances with regard to using it and the pros and cons of the technological advances that will be discussed.
The sun has been around for approximately 4.5 billion years. Since organisms lived the surface of the earth, sun is the energy resource of the organisms for them to survive. The solar energy produced by the sun is used by some organisms in order to produce their own food. If organisms can process the energy from the sun cleanly and efficiently, then there is a very big chance that humans can also develop a way to efficiently process energy from the sun. Solar energy that is transmitted to the earth is basically made up of electromagnetic waves and heat. These electromagnetic waves vary from infrared up to ultraviolet waves. Higher frequencies of the electromagnetic wave can carry higher amount of energy. Although solar energy potentially has high amounts of energy, the energy that reaches the earth is limited by the earth’s atmosphere. However, the solar energy that arrives in the surface of the earth is still an abundant resource of energy that may pave way for the elimination of the use of non-renewable energy resources (Pidwinry, 2007).
Development of Solar Energy
Increased awareness in the harmful effects of non-renewable energy is the motivation of researchers and scientists in developing technologies for efficient and clean way of utilizing solar energy. There are many ways that are developed and created nowadays in order to the said tasks. Photovoltaic cell has been long used by scientists and researchers to utilize tremendous energy from the sun. Photovoltaic cells (PV) or solar electric-system is a technology in which solar energy is converted to electrical energy. Solar electric systems use solar panels that contain PV cells to gather solar energy form the sun. These solar panels are made up of silicon and other materials that become excited and will release electrons whenever acted upon by the solar energy. Electricity field that is present in the solar panels causes the electrons to flow into a separate electric circuit forming an electric current. Photovoltaic cell is one of the pioneers of solar energy utilization. However, PV cells are only able to convert 10 to 20 percent of the energy produced by the sun. In addition to that is the high cost of production of these photovoltaic solar panels. The high cost of the solar panels is attributed to the high cost of the crystalline silicon needed to create the panels (Cunningham, 2007).
Another way of utilizing energy from the sun is by the use of organic solar cells. Unlike PV cells, organic solar cells are made up of carbon-compound based material semiconductors. This semiconductor works like a photovoltaic cell. The semiconductor gets excited and releases electrons whenever acted upon by solar energy. The semiconductor electric field causes the electrons to flow to a circuit creating electrical current. Although, organic solar cells are not comparable to photovoltaic cells whenever energy utilization is talked about, organic cells can only utilize 5 percent of the energy from the sun. However, organic solar cells are very cheap and easy to produce since it is organic and any substrates are compatible with this technology. In addition to that, organic solar cells are very versatile and can be used in different devices such as laptops, cellular phones etc (CNRS, 2009).
More fascinating than photovoltaic cells is the use of carbon nanotubes to replace the first two layers of a regular photovoltaic cell. The carbon nanotubes are applied to a glass surface to conduct electricity. In addition to the carbon nanotubes, a layer of platinum film is made in order to speed up the chemical reactions involved in the transformation of solar energy. However, the technology has a limited application due to the use of platinum layers. The platinum layers are only applicable in rigid surfaces like glass and cannot be used in flexible materials. This caused the technology to be much more expensive. However, dye-sensitized solar cell can utilize up to 10 times the solar energy utilized by a normal photovoltaic cell (Santa Fe Institute, 2008).
A new way of utilizing energy from the sun may pave way to the obsoleteness of photovoltaic silicon cells. Engineers at the Oregon State University discovered a way to develop another way of utilizing energy from the sun with the use of diatoms. Diatoms are single celled marine organisms that have existed on the face of the earth for about 100 million years. The use of diatoms in creating solar cells is with the help of their natural way of having nanotechnology. The approach in using diatoms in creating solar cells is just like how dye-sensitized solar cells behave but with more efficiency because it can produce 3 times the efficiency of a dye-sensitized solar cell. Also, the diatom solar cell is a bit costly than that of the dye-sensitized solar cell (Oregon State University [OSU], 2009).
Solar energy is also used to minimize the use of commercially produced air heaters. Solar walls are used like an ordinary wall but can effectively heat air in a clean way and reducing energy used. Solar walls heat fresh air from a building air ventilation system with the use of solar energy as its main heating source and a fan distributes the heat throughout the building’s inner wall and the solar wall acts as an insulator to maintain heat inside. This solar wall has been able to lower down electricity cost for heating systems of buildings and infrastructures (World Resources Institute [WRI], 2007).
Advantages of Solar Technology
It is always pointed out that solar energy is a renewable energy source. Solar energy is a non-depleting source of energy that can be a prime option for energy source in the near future. Technology from solar energy definitely has many advantages over the use of nonrenewable energy source such as fossil fuels.
Use of solar energy, unlike that of fossil fuels is not associated with the emission of greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide etc) or environmentally polluting gases (e.g. carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, unburnt hydrocarbons etc). Green house gases, due to their ability of absorbing and retaining infrared rays of sun, have been associated with the process of global warming and world’s climate change. Thus use of solar power would not only help in preventing global warming and climate change but also prevention of air pollution (IEA Renewable Energy Working Party, 2002).
At present extensive use of fossil fuels (especially petroleum) is greatly crippling the U.S economy. This is so since 60% of the petroleum requirements of U.S in the year 2005 had to be imported from Middle East nations (IEA Renewable Energy Working Party, 2002). Solar power serves, as a free and limited reservoir of energy and its use as the prime source of energy would help in preventing economic dependence on the Middle-East nations.
Solar energy technology is now used in many applications. Solar energy driven solar cars have also been discovered. These cars would run on electricity derived from photovoltaic cells (Cunningham, 2007). Solar energy could be used as a sole source of energy for powering these vehicles or in combination with another source of energy (either a renewable source of energy like hydrogen energy or fossil fuels).
Disadvantages of Solar Energy
When one think of renewable source of energy, one might think that there is no disadvantage to the concept. However, solar energy and other forms of renewable energy source have some disadvantages.
Solar energy is not present all the time. Sun takes a rest and energy extraction will be put into a halt. In this case, solar energy must be stored to a battery like device in order to continually use it. At present, the utilization of solar energy through the use of solar cells is very expensive. With further advancements in the fields of science and technology in future the cost for production of solar energy is expected to come down (Cunningham, 2007).
Increased awareness of people nowadays to the harmful effects of non-renewable energy to the environment leads them to the search for the proper technology to utilize renewable energy sources like solar energy. Current research and experiments are still not enough to produce technologies that will maximize the utilization of solar energy. The large amounts of harmful gases produced everyday literally destroy our atmosphere. All of us want to put a halt in this but not all of us can afford to buy one of the recent technologies that are able to manipulate solar energy to replace non-renewable energy like fossil fuels. However, if all of us will help not to add up pollution in the earth, it will give the scientists and the researchers enough time to create a less expensive and highly efficient technology that will eliminate the use of nonrenewable energy sources like fossil fuels. That should be enough help of the less privilege people in preserving and preventing destruction of our mother earth. If man is able to successfully tap the unlimited reservoir of energy from sun and use it as a prime source of energy, it would help in solving many problems which mankind is facing at present. Some of these problems are saving our planet against global warming, climate change, and environmental pollution, and breaking dependence on fossil fuels as a prime source of energy.
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