The Power of the Sun

The sun is the source of almost all the energy that the planet converts into heat, the wind, waves, and of course light. More energy from the sun falls on the earth in a single hour than is used by everyone in the world in one year. So it is a powerful source of energy that we can capture and use to heat, cool, and light our homes and businesses. A variety of technologies convert sunlight to usable energy for buildings. The most commonly used solar technologies for homes and businesses are solar water heating, passive solar design for space heating and cooling, and solar photovoltaics for electricity. Businesses and industry already use solar power to diversify their energy sources, improve efficiency, and save money. Solar photovoltaic and concentrating solar power technologies are also being used by developers and utilities to produce electricity on a massive scale to power cities and small towns. Photovoltaics are routinely used on houses to augment personal electricity supply.

Solar Photovoltaic Power:

converting sunlight directly into electricity.

Traditional solar cells are made from silicon, are usually flat-plate, and generally are the most efficient. Second-generation solar cells are called thin-film solar cells because they are made from amorphous silicon or non-silicon materials such as cadmium telluride. Thin film solar cells use layers of semiconductor materials only a few micrometers thick. Because of their flexibility, thin film solar cells can double as rooftop shingles and tiles, building facades, or the glazing for skylights.

Third-generation solar cells are being made from a variety of new materials besides silicon, including solar inks using conventional printing press technologies, solar dyes, and conductive plastics. Some new solar cells use plastic lenses or mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto a very small piece of high efficiency PV material. The PV material is more expensive, but because so little is needed, these systems are becoming cost effective for use by utilities and industry. However, because the lenses must be pointed at the sun, the use of concentrating collectors is limited to the sunniest parts of the country.

There are other options for gathering solar power:

  • Concentrating Solar Power: harnessing heat from the sun to provide electricity for large power stations
  • Solar Process Heat: using solar energy to heat or cool commercial and industrial buildings
  • Passive Solar Technology: harnessing heat from the sun to warm our homes and businesses
  • Solar Water Heating: harness heat from the sun to provide hot water for homes and businesses

The Tesla Concept

The big question is: "Will it be possible to make a significant contribution to the total energy needs of the planet using solar power?"

Read more....

Image courtesy of Tesla showing their large battery array

Image courtesy of Tesla showing their large battery array

The Future Energy Supply from a 2017 Perspective

The 2017 "New Energy Outlook" from Bloomberg has a profoundly positive financial outlook for solar energy combined with wind energy.

“Renewable energy sources are set to represent almost three quarters of the $10.2 trillion the world will invest in new power generating technology until 2040, thanks to rapidly falling costs for solar and wind power, and a growing role for batteries, including electric vehicle batteries, in balancing supply and demand.”

The report lists 10 major findings based on the findings of engineering and financial experts. The following apply specifically to solar power.

  1. Solar and wind dominate the future of electricity with 72% of a projected $10.2 trillion spent on new power generation worldwide between now and 2040.
  2. Solar power will beat the cost of coal in almost all developed countries by 2021. The levelized cost of electricity from solar is set to drop another 66% by 2040.
  3. Batteries and flexibility innovation and development bolster the reach of solar power. Utility-scale batteries increasingly compete with natural gas to provide system flexibility at times of peak demand. In conjunction with small-scale batteries, this will help renewable energy reach 74% penetration in Germany, 38% in the U.S., 55% in China and 49% in India by 2040.
  4. Electric vehicles will add significantly to the use of electricity. Charging EVs flexibly - for example at the office each day - when solar panels are generating and wholesale prices are low, will help the system adapt to intermittent solar and wind. The vehicle batteries can also help the residential power by transporting the power from the office charge to the home.