Created on 23 October 2014
The use of clean solar energy has soared since the millennium. According to figures from the International Energy Agency
, the global of amount of solar PV (photovoltaic) energy was 1.4 GW (GW – Gigawatt = 1,000 megawatts = 1,000,000,000 watts) in 2000. By 2011 this had grown to roughly 67 GW, which is a 47,857% increase in only eleven years!
More and more people are starting to understand that our reliance on fossil fuels cannot continue on at the current pace. Current predictions estimate that we will exhaust our planet's supply of oil by 2052, gas by 2060 and coal by 2088 – and once the supplies have gone, they have gone forever.
We are also starting to understand that our over-reliance on fossil fuels has caused irrevocable damage to our planet's environment
. There was a “balance” created when, millions of years ago, lifeforms died, and the carbon they contained became buried deep underground. By digging up and burning the remains of those lifeforms in the form of fossil fuels, we've upset that balance by releasing carbon back into the atmosphere. As a result, we've seen the average global and sea surface temperature of the Earth rise by 0.8 degrees Celsius since 1900, with two thirds of that rise occurring over last thirty years. That may not sound like much, but every tiny rise in temperature has profound effects on our planet
, such as the reduction in snow and ice, the rising of sea levels and more frequent extreme climate events.
Solar energy = Clean energy
Solar energy is a clean energy source, as it releases almost no greenhouse gases – gases such as carbon dioxide that help cause global warming – and produces very little in the way of waste. The sun's energy is sufficient to provide enough energy for the whole of mankind for an entire year, and not just once over, but over 8,000 times over! That's the equivalent of over 10 billions tons of oil!
Solar energy is also a versatile source of energy. The traditional method of collecting energy using PV or photovoltaic cells is expensive, as those cells contain a lot of silicon, and a single PV cell will need to collect light for between 8 and 10 years before it has collected the equivalent monetary value of energy as it cost to manufacture it. An alternative is high-temperature thermal solar technology, which works in the same way as thermal power, concentrating heat energy (the sun's rays) to heat water to very high temperatures, creating steam which is then used to power turbines.
Solar energy power plants
An increasing number of countries are waking up to the potential of solar energy as a clean, environmentally-friendly method of energy generation, and are building full-sized industrial solar energy power plants. France, Switzerland, Germany and the United States all now have several solar power plants, while the Amareleja plant in Portugal generates enough power to supply energy for 30,000 homes, and the Victoria concentrated solar power plant in Australia powers 45,000!
We may have done too much damage to our environment already, but at least if we further move towards the cleaner, emission-free energy solutions provided by solar
, we may prevent the damage we have done from becoming any worse.