“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” – Thomas Edison, 1931
Thomas Edison is right in his words, indeed. The sun, with all its warmth and glory, is not just a gigantic star placed in the solar system for nothing. It lights up just about everything, figuratively and literally speaking. The power of the sun is not something that should be taken for granted because when sunlight is collected and converted into electricity to produce solar power, the possibilities are endless, to say the least. With the use of solar panels made up of individual solar cells, communities can now generate clean and more affordable energy.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Power
Just like the other sources of energy and electricity, solar power also has its fair share of advantages and disadvantages. Sustainability and renewability are the top plus points of solar power. As long as the sun is up there shining, solar power can never run out, not for the next billion years. It can be used to generate electricity and a relatively simple technology of heating water as in the case of solar water heaters. Another advantage is the minimal maintenance requirement of solar panels plus they produce energy silently so you would not encounter any problems with your neighbors. Additionally, the federal government allows those individuals who use solar power to deduct 30% of their solar power system costs off their federal taxes through an investment tax credit (ITC) to support energy efficiency and encourage the use of renewable resources. So this is more of a win-win situation because not only do you get to help Mother Earth, you also earn your tax credit.
However, solar power also has its disadvantage mainly because it obviously cannot be created during nighttime. There may also be reduced energy production during cloudy days. Solar panels must also be placed in such an angle where it is directly facing the sun, otherwise, energy production would be reduced. In fact, even today’s most efficient solar cells only convert just over 20% of sunlight to electricity. But this number is likely to improve as increased advances in solar technology take place.
Brief History of Solar Power
Early civilizations had grazed the surface of solar technology and energy when they learned to use building techniques to store the energy of the sun during the day to keep their homes warm at night. They even discovered the use of mirrors to ignite fire but it was not until the 1950s when tangible technology was developed to convert sunlight into electricity. The first use of solar panels was on the Vanguard I space satellite launched in 1958, wherein the panels were used to power the radios inside the satellite. Since then, solar panels became the accepted energy source for space applications.
Solar Power in the 21st Century
As more and more people become aware of the benefits of solar power through various solar technology advancements, the demand to use it in their homes or businesses has considerably increased. In the 1st quarter of 2014, the number of new electricity generating capacity installed in the United States listed solar energy as the highest with 74% (Solar Energy Industries Association).
In addition, the 2013 new solar installations in the US described that almost 5000 megawatts of solar power are used in utility, about 2000 megawatts in nonresidential, and roughly 1000 megawatts in residential.
In terms of employment, solar industry jobs have increased to 50% since the year 2010. Solar workers have now outnumbered coal miners nearly two to one.
Moreover, the cost of solar panel installation on typical residential houses has dropped nearly 70% since 1998.
The Future of Solar Power
The future holds endless possibilities for solar power. Demands for solar power will continuously increase as more countries develop and improve the solar industry in their territories. Scientists have expected the future of solar energy to produce buildings and establishments that will combine energy-efficient design and construction practices. Photovoltaic research and development will continue to endeavor in producing new materials, cell designs, and novel approaches to solar material and product development. Lastly, solar electricity will be used to electrolyze water for the production of hydrogen for fuel cells used in transportation and establishments.
Considering the significance of the solar industry during the present times, it is remarkable to conclude that people are living up to what Thomas Edison stated many years ago about solar energy. And it is also notable to say that what the world has now for solar power is just the start of something revolutionary.
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