Solar Power: How Efficient it is as an Energy Source?

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Solar Power

Solar power is the favoured source of renewable electricity. It has been growing in popularity over recent years, as more people become aware of its many benefits. Solar panels have become so popular that they can be found on homes all around the Globe. While it may seem like a good idea at first glance, there are some things you should know before installing your very own set of solar panels. Continue reading below to learn why this might not be such a great decision after all.

What is Solar Power?

The sun provides free energy to all life on Earth — if only humans would use it efficiently enough. The sun produces light through the process of nuclear fusion in its core. As this happens, hydrogen atoms combine with helium atoms to form heavier elements such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, nickel, sulfur, silicon, calcium, aluminum, etc. These convert directly back into heat or electromagnetic radiation. However, not every particle will undergo fission; some particles may absorb the incoming energy instead. Thus, we get sunlight.

How much energy does the Earth get from the sun?

So why do people experience the effects of climate change? Well, because the clouds don’t reflect all of the available sunlight. Additionally, due to pollution from factories, cars, and other forms of combustion, our atmosphere blocks roughly 30% of the original sunlight. Then, once sunlight reaches Earth, it must pass through several layers of different gases before hitting the surface. These additional impediments add further loss of efficiency, so less than half of the initial amount of sunlight makes it to the ground. Finally, only 5%-10% of the remaining sunlight gets converted into usable electrical energy. This means that each square meter of land receives approximately 0.1 kWh of usable energy per day from the sun–which translates into 1 kW/m2 over 12 months. If you wanted to harness this energy, you’d need something like 4 million acres of solar panels to capture one gigawatt of energy annually.

Solar vs other Energy Resources

Now, let’s compare that number to what it costs to produce a kilowatt-hour of electricity using traditional methods. A typical coal plant uses natural gas to fuel its fires and then converts those chemical reactions into mechanical motion. To turn that kinetic energy into electrical potential energy, the plants compress air inside large turbines. Those rotating blades generate electric current via friction between the blade tips and the surrounding air molecules. But, again, since the environment isn’t perfect, the turbine needs to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to maintain constant output.

Further, the turbines themselves require maintenance and replacement from time to time, adding to production costs. All told, producing a single kWh of electricity using coal requires around ten cubic meters of space. And, yes, that includes everything needed to mine, transport, refine, store, and distribute the raw material.

In contrast, a modern photovoltaic cell works based on similar principles as the first solar cells did. However, unlike early designs, today’s solar PV cells work best under direct exposure to the sun. While the solar panel doesn’t consume energy, the conversion device does. Both must be considered when comparing efficiencies. On average, a solar panel generates anywhere from 2 – 20 watts of electricity, depending on installed. So for comparison purposes, here is an example: Let’s say a 100-watt bulb consumes 75 Watts of power at night. By switching out your incandescent bulbs for LED ones, you could save up to 75 Watt-hours per year while consuming no extra power during daylight hours. At $0.12 / Whr, that comes out to 6 cents per kWh saved, assuming an efficient LED has been used. Now, consider how much money was spent building the coal plant, transporting, refining, storing, distributing, maintaining, replacing, installing, and removing the equipment required to make one kWh of electricity. It might cost upwards of $100, meaning that one kWh generated by renewables can provide up to 3 times the value. Not bad!

Of course, there are many factors involved in determining whether or not renewable sources should be utilized. For instance, countries with high population densities typically rely heavily upon fossil fuels for power generation. They also experience frequent droughts, floods, storms, and other extreme weather patterns that cause widespread damage to infrastructure. 

Consequently, these regions often find themselves in dire financial straits without reliable access to cheap, clean power. Fortunately, technology exists to help us overcome problems like these, but experts from Utility Bidder believe that it takes careful planning and foresight. For instance, hydroelectric dams and wind farms create new ecological issues by displacing wildlife habitats and disrupting ecosystems.

Conclusion

Renewable resources have become increasingly popular due to concerns about global warming and pollution caused by burning nonrenewable forms of energy such as oil and coal. However, despite being touted as environmentally friendly alternatives, some types of renewable energy still pose significant threats to our planet’s ecosystem. As we develop more sustainable ways to harness nature’s abundant supply of free energy, we will hopefully see less reliance on fossil fuels and greater use of alternative energies. 

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