The cost of solar electric power is still higher than fossil fuels and hydroelectric power. Experts say that “As long as demand is small, production of solar energy remains small-scale and expensive, and as long as production is small-scale and dispersive, the price will remain high and the demand small: catch 22.” What is the solution?
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) the world energy consumption will increase by 55% by the year 2030. And whether you believe in global warming or not, you cannot dispute the fact that burning more fossil fuel to satisfy our planet’s growing energy needs is not the best solution to the energy problem. In addition to polluting the environment and causing tens of thousands of health problems annually, coal and oil industries have low job intensity when compared to wind and solar power and thus don’t help much in creating badly needed new jobs.
So, developing renewable energy sources, solar power in particular, is a win-win situation for pollution reduction, job creation, population health, reduced dependency on foreign oil, and even presidential campaigns. And even though the benefits are obvious, it took U.S. Congress a long time to finally pass the H.R.1424 legislation that contained renewable energy provisions. One of these provisions, the 30% solar investment tax credit, was extended for eight years and the $2000 monetary cap for residential solar electric installations was removed. On October 3, 2008 the President signed into law this historic legislation that would undoubtedly boost the use of solar and other renewable energy in the U.S.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has been an important solar energy supporter. Among other initiatives it conceived and ran a Million Solar Roofs program from 1997 through 2005 resulting in 377,000 photovoltaics (PV), solar water-heating, and solar pool-heating installations in addition to numerous educational, economic, health, and job creation benefits. The current Solar America Initiative (SAI) that works through partnerships between the DOE and industry, universities, and all levels of governmental and non-governmental agencies, aims at bringing the cost of solar electric power in line with the cost of conventional electric power by 2015. One of the major SAI activities is called Solar American Cities with twenty-five cities across the U.S. committed to accelerate the adoption of all solar energy technologies (and not just PV) at the local level.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council over 85 thousand homes in the Southwest use solar energy. On the state level, not surprisingly, California is leading the green energy way. However, not everyone would guess that, according to New Jersey official data, the Garden State is one of the fastest growing solar power markets in the U.S.
But federal and state agencies are not the only members of the team promoting use of solar energy. Nonprofit organizations, such as American Solar Energy Society (ASES) established in 1954 play a key role in the process. ASEA publishes Solar Today magazine, hosts and runs annual National Solar Conferences, and organized the ASES National Solar Tour, the largest solar energy event with participants ranging from energy professionals to grassroots organizations. This year’s event, held on October 4 in 48 states, brought about 150,000 participants to 5,000 homes and businesses to learn about the cost savings, tax credits and incentives, reduction of carbon emissions, and other benefits of solar technology.
Another prominent nonprofit grassroots organization, Greenpeace, recently issued a report predicting that heavy investment in renewable energy and efficiency has a potential of growing into a $360 billion a year industry creating green-color jobs, generating close to half of the world electricity, and protecting the environment.
Usually, when one talks about solar power, photovoltaic panels is the first thing that comes to mind. However, there is more than one way to use solar energy. Three mature technologies, Solar Photovoltaics, Passive Solar, and Solar Hot Water have been in use for years. Photovoltaic panels convert sunlight into electricity. Passive solar principals govern architectural design, position, and orientation of buildings to maximize use of sunlight for natural lighting, heating, and cooling. Solar hot water systems expose water reservoirs to solar rays for heating water that is used in the building.
The forth technology, Concentrating Solar Power, is relatively new and only several
installations exist in the world. In a typical concentrating solar power system a spherical mirror or a lens focuses solar rays onto a reservoir positioned at the focal point. The reservoir contains a heat transfer liquid, such as oil, which in turn heats water and changes it to steam. Steam drives a turbine generator that produces electricity.
Each of these technologies has its place in the renewable power infrastructure and deserves public attention and funds to facilitate their development and installation.
Filed Under: Green engineering