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Solar energy: The future of electricity

In the 21st century, concerns about the harmful environmental impacts of fossil fuels have grown exponentially. Solar energy provides a sustainable alternative, but the current state of the industry may limit its availability.

The world is in dire need of a new efficient energy source on a large scale. Fossil fuels are hundreds of millions years old, but in the last 150 years, consumption has increased rapidly and reserves are becoming harder to locate. Resources won’t last forever. The fossil fuels we are burning in recent years quite possibly could be some of the last, although this might be a good thing considering carbon emissions would undoubtedly drop. Meanwhile, every hour millions of kilowatts of clean, free solar energy hits the earth’s surface. The energy is everywhere and easy to access, but it’s barely being used. 

There are multiple technologies used to create electricity from solar energy. The most common is photovoltaic solar power in which energy from sunlight is collected and converted directly into electricity by photovoltaic solar panel cells. Although solar energy itself is free, the cost of its collection, conversion, and storage limits its development in many places, but in recent years the cost of production has plummeted tremendously. Nearly a decade ago, an average of 6 kilowatts/hour residential solar system could cost more than $50,000 US. Now, the cost of a typical installation ranges from $16,200 US to $21,400 US, mostly depending on the size of the area being covered. 

Among the benefits of solar energy is its renew-ability and the fact that it will be available to us for the next 5 billion years, or at least as long as the skies remain clear. 

Consumers who install solar power systems reduce the cost of electricity bills and in some places can receive payments for surplus energy exported back to the grid. 

On the downside, the more electricity you want to produce, the more solar panels you will need. This will affect the cost of storage and space needed to house these panels significantly, these factors may limit its expansion depending on the consumer’s needs. 

 

In recent news, researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology are developing a technology that could possibly improve the efficiency of photovoltaic cells by nearly 60-70 percent, this could very well make solar power an even more practical and sought after source of renewable energy. The researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology knew that regular photovoltaics utilize a very narrow range of the solar spectrum therefore under-utilizing them, and that the energy loss limits the maximum efficiency to nearly 30 percent. The researchers’ inspiration for the new technology originates from optical refrigeration, where the absorbed light is re-emitted at a higher energy capacity which should result in a higher efficiency–projected at 70 percent. 

“Solar radiation, on its way to the photovoltaic cells, hits a dedicated material that we developed for this purpose,  and the material is heated by the unused part of the spectrum,” says graduate student Assaf Manor. “In addition, the solar radiation in the optimal spectrum is absorbed and re-emitted at a blue-shifted spectrum. This radiation is then harvested by the solar cell, and both the heat and the light are converted to electricity.”

Solar energy may be the future of the next generation, promising a safer, greener, and economical way of living life. Sweden, which has been focused with the goal of completely eliminating fossil fuels by 2050, is hoping to make the city of Stockholm completely powered by renewable energy. Sweden is investing $546 million towards becoming the world’s first fossil fuel free nation, hoping doing so will encourage other nations to take part and go green.

 

 

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