Solar Energy Utilization

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Whether or not you believe in solar energy, it is definitely a renewable source of energy to be aware of. Although the idea of capturing energy from the sun has existed since the times of the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians, the efficiency of this process is continuously being refined till today. Ancient architecture included Porticos which were a set of thick pillars spread out evenly in order to let sunlight filter through. Porticos were mainly set up in front of palaces to provide heat. In Egypt, pools of water surrounded with black tiles would be built in a region with no obstruction of the sun to trap heat in the water. At night, this heat would diffuse and heat the palaces via out-pipes.

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Although sun energy was harnessed for heat, it wasn’t until the 19th century where it was able to be converted into electrical energy. In 1839, the photovoltaic effect was discovered by French Physicist Alexandre Edmond Becquerel. This effect described the ejection of electrons from a metals surface. This would happen when photons from the sun are strong enough to knock the valence electrons from the metal down in energy level. As this effect became increasingly studied, engineers from around the globe tried their hand at making the perfect solar device. More than a century later (1950’s), Bell Labs out of New Jersey was able to develop a solar cell out of silicon. The more flexible material was able to be put on boards and grouped together with other solar cells to make what is now known as solar panels. From 1957 to 1960, there was a 6% increase in the efficiency of the solar cells, and this was capped off by one of the first commercial use solar panels: the TelStar-1 from Bell Labs.

This newly available solar panel technology was extremely expensive, thus it was mainly used by industry for satellite use for things such as the US and Soviet space program. Although the technology saw success, it was not financially accessible for most Americans, thus companies worked tirelessly to lower the cost of solar cells. With costs leveling down from the $100 per watt range to around $20 per watt, a wider use of solar panels was available. They started to appear in rural areas with great sun exposure, on railroad crossings, and even in children’s toys (Victoria C.).

Today, solar panels are a very widely growing tool for energy extraction around the globe. Whether it being in the middle of the Mojave desert, or being on top of a residential roof in the sunshine state of Florida, they are being used for many applications. One of the major issues with solar technology is their limited efficiency in places hindered by cloud cover or colder weather patterns. When looking at places such as the U.S. Northeast and the Canadian Provinces and Territories, solar technology is hindered by snow cover, and limited efficiency with chilly temperatures affecting photon retention. This is proven by research done by the Social Solar Research Group that claim southern states, specifically in the west have the best outlook. They claim that in 2014, 30% of the regions energy is generated by solar power, with the highest production coming from the state of California, with Arizona and Nevada trailing closely behind. While an average 300+ days of sunshine compared to the U.S. average of 205 days has a great deal in the use of solar energy, government grants also play a huge role.

In the state of California, specific grants are given to both corporations and individual home owners to accelerate the move to clean energy. The California Solar Initiative is a fund that pays homeowners up to $10,000 to install solar panels on their properties in order to be less reliant on the “grid”. This initiative consists of the SASH and MASH programs which are designed for any single family or multifamily dwelling. There are additional solar grants for enterprises to take advantage of, including special low interest financing that makes solar energy a very affordable business decision (https://www.energysage.com/solar-panels/solar-rebates-incentives/ca/).

When comparing to other energy sources, it is one of the cleanest and least invasive ways to harness energy, however it is overshadowed by one grand American industry: Oil. Although oil companies first considered the idea of solar panels profitable, they quickly realized that it would harm the price of their commodities, and have extensively lobbied against it till today. At this point in time (2019), the price of solar panels has never been lower, and the political climate has begun to push for cheaper and eco-friendlier energy alternatives (A Brief History of Solar Energy, 2019). With oil and gas prices being amongst historical lows at this point in time, there is no rush for most consumers to switch over to green energy with such posing as a financial burden. The other main concern from mainstream consumers is that manufacturers in industries such as the automotive sector are now able to make engines that are extremely fuel efficient. This is one main reason why green energy has not fully taken over.

Another angle that solar energy provides americans is the ability to depend less on the grid. Americans across the country gripe about tax assessments and hydro bills, and with solar technology, they will have the ability to take money off their bills and know they are not causing harm to the environment in the process.

Compared to current solar usage, previous rates were much lower than current usage. Starting off with terrible efficiency, solar technology was utilized for very limited use as systems such as fossil fuels offered more “bang for the buck”. By July 2017, a group of U.S. led scientists developed a prototype for a solar cell capable of 44.5% efficiency referred to as an energysage. With impressive numbers like these, solar energy can compete with and surpass conventional energy sources in future years.

By shifting our reliance on fossil fuels to newer clean sources, the ‘greenhouse gas effect’ will be reduced as less CO2 emittance is occurring. Currently, the majority of energy available in the United States and Canada is harnessed by burning coal or natural gas. Although correlations are found, it has a potential effect on a phenomenon referred to as “Global Warming”. It is the concept of global temperatures rising a small percentage basis each year to the point where sea levels will harm life on the coasts and make air almost unbreathable. Conversely, solar energy uses the rays of the sun to generate electrical energy, a process that does not evolve the emittance of CO2 into the atmosphere (solar-estimate).

If one thing is for certain, solar energy is definitely an alternative source of energy generation to be aware of. With ever advancing technology, the limit for solar energy is not fully known and could someday become so efficient that it becomes a much better utilized energy source. The main takeaway is that, even though the technology is becoming increasingly efficient, it does require direct sunlight, and therefore will always need to be supplemented with another energy provider that is non weather dependent. Hopefully this coupling effect can have a tremendous effect in decreasing the yearly CO2 output across the globe and help combat the phenomenon of Global Warming.

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Solar energy utilization. (2020, Mar 10). Retrieved December 3, 2022 , from
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