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Learn about Solar Power Alternative Energy

Solar Power currently provides less than 1 percent of the electricity produced in the U.S. Coal provides half of the nations supply followed by nuclear power and natural gas at 20 percent each.

There are three ways to harvest the sun's energy. Solar cells called, photovoltaic, or photoelectric cells convert sun light directly into electricity. On a sunny day one square meter of a solar panel can power a 100W light bulb. Solar panels were originally developed to power satellites. Most photovoltaic cells sold today are made of silicon which is the same material found in computer chips. Photovoltaic cells made from silicon are bulky and expensive to manufacture. New photovoltaic cells made from organic chemicals using nanotechnology should dramatically lower the cost of the production of solar energy. This nanotechnology comes from a mixture of titania (an organic chemical used in sunscreen and toothpaste). This new technology can be placed on thin film or sprayed on like paint. Clothing coated with the composite could be used to recharge batteries or power small electronic devices. Hydrogen powered cars painted with the material could be used to recharge the car's battery. Plastic material coated with the composite could be rolled across large areas of desert creating solar farms which have no moving parts, and are environmentally safe and clean. Current silicon technology can only harvest the sun's visible light. The other half of the sunlight is in the infrared spectrum. The new nanotechnology is able to harvest this infrared portion in the form of heat. The heat is detected by nano particles called quantum dots. Theorists predict nanotechnology could become five times more efficient than the current silicon technology.

Solar water heating from the sun normally supplements the heat produced by gas or electric water heating systems. Water or other liquids are pumped through black pipes that are enclosed in panels that have direct sunlight.

Solar Furnaces use an enormous array of mirrors to concentrate the sunlight to a small location which produces very high temperatures that can be as high as 33,000 degrees Celsius. The multiple mirrors used on a Solar Furnace tracks the sun as it moves across the sky and concentrates this energy into one spot. This concentrated energy is then directed to an oil furnace which would create steam to turn a turbine. The turbine would then generate electricity. Today's best solar cells only convert 20 to 30 percent of the sun's energy into electricity. Multiple mirrors can also be directed to a solar cell increasing the efficiency of the panel by the number of mirrors directed to the solar cell. This could cut the cost of solar power by half.

Solar towers are built above a large greenhouse which is warmed by the sun. The middle of the greenhouse is a very tall tower. Hot air rises and moves quickly through the tower where the air turns turbines.

Advantages:

  • Solar energy is free and clean.
  • Energy can be produced from remote places.
  • After installation the system is low maintenance.

Disadvantage:

  • It is not available at night and cloud cover reduces efficiency.
  • Solar cells are currently very expensive compared to the electricity the current technology produces.
  • A very sunny climate is required.

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