Every energy source has pluses and minuses, but ask a Californian if they are interested in harnessing the sun’s rays to power their washing machines, electric lights, heating or cooling needs, etc., and you’ll see their answer in their actions. This past year, residents residing in the ‘city of angels’ installed more solar panels than in the previous 30 years combined, more than doubling their overall photovoltaic energy capacity.
According to Carol Olson, a researcher at the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands, solar power “contributes 96 percent to 98 percent less greenhouse gases than electricity generated from 100 percent coal and 92 percent to 96 percent less greenhouse gases than the European electricity mix.”
If the greenhouse gas bit doesn’t have you sold on solar, consider this:
· Compared with coal-generated electricity over its lifetime’s use, solar uses 86-89 percent less water.
· Compared to coal-based energy solar uses 80 percent less land.
· It contributes 92-97 percent less to acid rain.
· Solar contributes 98 percent less to marine eutrophication (stimulating some plants to grow excessively and others to die, thus harming the marine eco-system).
· Using solar has geo-political benefits since many/most of the wars we have waged are over the control of petroleum and fossil fuel-based energy.
· Price-fixing of oil in unstable countries often leads to food crises and other humanitarian concerns.
· Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing uses up 127,750 billion gallons of water annually.
While solar can be an expensive endeavor up front, the long-term benefits are an important consideration for those wanting to power their lives in a more environmentally responsible way. Due to progressive laws and healthy tax incentives, California is leading the way in solar energy, though. The sunny state plans to install an almost 100% solar-grid, partly due to natural gas prices and practices being incomparable to solar power.
Photovoltaic (PV) panels have gotten much more affordable, as well. It already has more than 1 GW of solar power thanks to the California Solar Initiative (CSI). To put this in perspective, 1 GW is equal to 1billion watts. This can provide energy to about 100,000 homes annually. It also prevents two conventional power plants from having to be built. The California Public Utilities Commission president, Michael Peevy says, “California has the most customer-side solar installations of any state in the nation. This is a tremendous milestone for California and a testament to the success of the CSI.”
Solar power is not without an environmental impact; however.Ultrapure polysilicon is now scarce. It also leaves behind a toxic wastecalled silicon tetrachloride. Solar cell efficiency is improving all the time though. New technologies are enhancing our first attempts at capturing rays. A new method allows for highly efficient broad-band light trapping in thin films — more light is captured within the film than with other methods, maximizing absorption and electricity generation.
The University of York explains the technology further:
The new method builds on research into a class of materials known as quasi-crystals, which offer advantages in terms of the spectrum of light they are able to capture. However, the problem with these structures is that their properties are difficult to tailor towards specific applications as they lack the design tools available with periodic structures such as regular gratings.
To solve this problem, the researchers created a new structure called a quasi-random structure, which combines the rich spatial frequencies associated with quasi-crystals with the high level of control afforded by periodic structures.
California’s use of the sun should be applauded, but as we move away from fossil fuels, an ever-vigilant attempt to make our green-energies greener should be asserted.