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Solar Energy - Control the Sun

In the past few years, the popularity of solar energy and other types of alternative energy has increased substantially. Solar energy, itself, converts the radiant energy from the sun into tangible electricity. Of course, the amount of light energy we receive from the sun is dependent on the angle of the sun and the number of clouds in the sky. Further, the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs approximately 16% of the sun’s radiation and reflects about 6% of the sun’s light.

That said, solar energy is a great source of alternative energy - as first and foremost - this type of renewable energy is clean, does not pollute the environment, and frees individuals from the confines of the power grid. Solar energy, unlike fossil fuels, does not emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – which in turn causes climate change. In fact, according to the US Department of Energy, humans emit 16 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day worldwide. Of this total, the US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average American household releases 23,000 pounds of carbon dioxide annually. Therefore, it is clear that solar energy can help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.

Solar Panels or Photovoltaic Cells

Solar Energy can be captured through a variety of different methods. One popular way to collect the sun’s energy is through the installation of solar panels or photovoltaics. When light hits the various semiconductors in the photovoltaic cells, the light transfers its energy to the conductors. Mirrors and other equipment concentrate this light energy for reasons of efficiency. Further, the concentrators also make these solar panels less costly since the photovoltaics, themselves, are usually the most costly components.

In fact, one-kilowatt photovoltaic system prevents 300 pounds of Carbon Dioxide from being released into the environment on a monthly basis – based on a system that produces 150 kWh per month.

With respect to cost, photovoltaic cell generated electricity costs about 32 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). However, with federal tax credits in place and many states offering financial incentives and other subsidies, the cost lowers to at least 12 cents per kWh (about the same as conventional energy sources) or even less depending on the renewable energy incentives in your area. (Full descriptions of renewable energy financial incentives can be viewed at www.dsireusa.org).

Other Solar Energy Capturing Methods

Passive solar energy is another great and inexpensive way to take advantage of the sun’s light energy. Homes that take the most advantage of passive solar energy are built to collect the sun’s low angle rays in the winter and to avoid the direct sun’s rays in the summer. Appropriate window overhangs and outside tree placement can help with this process significantly. Energy experts estimate that a home’s energy consumption can be reduced by as much as 30% by taking advantage of these passive solar energy strategies.

A Solar Thermal Collector is another way of “mining” the energy from the sun’s rays. Usually consisting of an absorber, glazing frame, and insulation, this device collects the energy from the sun and converts it into thermal energy immediately – or it can be stored for use at a later time. Often these solar thermal collectors are used to heat swimming pools, hot tubs, household hot water, and space heating.

Since households spend about 25% of its energy costs on heating water, one excellent investment is a solar water heater. This piece of equipment can save households 50% to 85% on their annual utility bills. If the solar water heater is utilized for 20 years, 50 tons of carbon dioxide emissions will be avoided.

Technological Advances

Engineers are constantly creating new and more efficient solar energy technologies. A few US based companies can now replace the silicon that traditionally is used to absorb light and replace it with a thin film of selenium, copper, gallium and indium. As a result, these cells are easier to install and cost about one-tenth the price of the traditional silicon-based cells. Another innovative development is the “spray on” cell. As you may guess, this substance can be sprayed on other materials where it can harness power from the sun. This substance, which mainly would power portable electrical devices, may be an astounding five times more efficient than traditional photovoltaics.

All in all, as individuals continue to escape the confines of the power grid and recognize solar energy as a clean and renewable energy option, the use of solar energy will become more efficient, less costly, and much more mainstream.





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