The need for solar power

The Earth is facing a multi-headed environmental crisis. These problems may seem enormous, but we are not powerless.  There is a great deal we can do to take control over our impact on the Earth and its biosphere.  The tools to do so are not yet to be invented.  We already have them, and they’ve been available for years.  We just have to do the work to change the way we do things. One of the main dangers is climate change, which is currently being driven by fossil fuel extraction. This means we need to reduce fossil fuel use drastically.

But we will still need a power source. This is where solar power comes in, along with wind, small hydro, biomass, geothermal and other renewable energy sources. Some include nuclear, but I’m not going to get into that debate right now.

Solar power, in both its thermal and solar photovoltaic forms was discovered many years ago.  It has been used in various ways since – you’ve probably used a solar powered calculator, tried to burn something with a magnifying glass when you were a kid, and seen photographs of spacecraft with their solar panel wings. We can do far more with it than we have so far.

In its thermal form, people have been making use of solar for far longer – think solariums, greenhouses and orangeries. Then of course there’s plants and photosynthesis. Starting with cyanobacteria and other algae, they’ve been using it for at least 3.5 billion years!

Solar power’s two flavors: solar thermal and solar photovoltaic

Solar photovoltaic transforms light from the sun into electricity.  If you want to light your home with solar, you need to use solar photovoltaic.  This form of solar energy is more versatile than solar thermal since you can use electricity for almost anything, but is also more technically complicated and expensive to install for the amount of energy produced.

Solar thermal uses the sun’s energy in the form of heat. It is frequently used in the form of solar hot water systems, as well as pool heating, greenhouses for growing plants, solar cookers, solar dehydrators, and passive and active heating for the house. Solar thermal is a lot easier and more practical as a DIY project than solar photovoltaic.  The materials are often cheaper and less technically complicated.  It’s also safer if you have less skill with electrical circuits, since you aren’t working with high voltage electricity.

Why solar power is practical, and how to make it work for you

Solar photovoltaic power has undergone major improvements in recent years and has become a lot more affordable.  There are now many solar photovoltaic modules with a price of under $2.00 per watt.  This is vastly better than even a year ago.  There have also been changes in the way solar is marketed – a few power companies are offering to install solar photovoltaic systems on your house for free, and then charging a set price for electricity produced that is lower than their standard electricity rates.  This makes residential solar a possibility for many people who would not have been able to afford solar on their own.

With the exception of a very few power companies, most of the costs of solar photovoltaics are up front, one time costs.  If you go this route, you pay a large sum at the beginning but then have free electricity thereafter.  Under modern circumstances of fluctuating energy prices and a changing climate, this is an excellent investment if you have the money. If you’re off the grid using a generator, you can save a lot of money over time if you go solar.

If you have rather less money but have skill with building things or electronics and some basic equipment, there are also kits for making solar panels and solar installations.  Remember that solar thermal is usually easier and safer as a do it yourself project than solar photovoltaic.

Of course, you might be more interested in other renewable energy options. There will be more articles on these subjects on this site soon.

Solar Power: What It Is, and Why We Should Care

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