I’m sure many of you are aware of the increasing energy demands and the diminishing fossil fuels as we know them. The world desperately needs an alternative energy source that is both clean and abundant. Enter solar energy.
This form of renewable energy provides an environment-friendly and sustainable source of power that is available whenever the sun is shining. As a result, it’s a perfect fit for developing countries and for those living in extreme climates. In the right circumstances, it can be an economical and practical choice. Let’s explore how solar energy can be mass produced, delivered, and used.
Solar energy doesn’t just provide power to a device, it can be efficiently manufactured on a large scale. This is especially beneficial in regions where solar electricity is not yet viable as a means of satisfying residential needs. In a largely sun-based economy, utility-scale solar power could well flourish.
The sun’s energy can be collected via solar panels and stored in a battery, which is then used to power electricity-generating devices. This could be anything from a conventional power plant using thermal energy to produce electricity, to a solar-powered battery which stores electricity directly in chemical form, such as lithium ion (Li+) batteries. The chemical elements of which these batteries are made are all available in abundant supply on the planet Earth.
The growth of solar power around the world is evident in the fact that over 126 gigawatts (GW) of solar panels have been installed globally as of 2017, with that figure expected to reach 200GW by 2027. This compares to the 7.2GW installed in the U.S. in 2016 and 13.4GW in 2017.
Although solar energy is mostly associated with electricity production, it’s actually a very practical choice when it comes to satisfying thermal needs. After all, the sun is far more abundant and offers a constant supply of energy.
In regions where the climate is suitable, buildings, industries, and transportation sectors could all become reliant on solar power, which is then used either directly or indirectly to generate electricity.
Traditional methods of generating electricity, such as hydroelectric dams and nuclear power plants, often suffer from significant adverse environmental effects. The construction and operation of these facilities can also be dangerous and costly, particularly in developing countries. By comparison, solar power plants are typically large and costly ($0.7 million – $2.1 million per megawatt), but have minimal impact on the environment and are relatively safe and inexpensive to build and operate.
In addition to satisfying energy needs, solar power can be used for heating water and space heating, for industrial processes such as copper smelting or aluminum smelting, and for powering automobiles.
If you’re reading this, I assume that you’re already aware that excess electricity generated by solar power can be stored for use at a later date. In fact, the energy generated by the sun during the day can be stored and used effectively for hours, days, or even weeks, depending on the size of the battery.
Larger batteries allow for longer-term storage, and thus facilitate the creation of an ‘electricity market’. This is where solar energy can be sold to consumers on an open market, similar to the way that natural gas is traded today. As a result, electricity generated by the sun will most likely have a greater value than that generated by traditional energy sources, such as fossil fuels or nuclear power, due to it being more readily available and clean energy.
Batteries are essential for storing electricity generated by the sun and can be made up of a variety of chemical elements, such as lithium, calcium, and sodium.
In addition to storing electricity generated by the sun, batteries can also be used to distribute this energy to various locations and devices. For example, small batteries could be used to store some electrical power for use locally, while larger batteries could provide backup power for larger facilities.
Numerous challenges exist in bringing solar energy to the masses. The technology is still relatively immature as far as the general public is concerned, and the cost of installing panels on a residential scale remains high. Despite these challenges, the world’s appetite for alternative and clean energy sources makes solar energy a prime target for growth.