The basics of solar energy

July 29, 2015

Solar energy is one of the world's most powerful and renewable resources. Recently, there has been a major push towards solar energy, but it has been used for hundreds of years. Check out some history:

The basics of solar energy

The push for solar energy

The energy joyride — 50 or so years of rapid progress when fuel for industry and recreation was relatively cheap — came to a sudden stop in 1973 with an oil embargo by the world's major producers and subsequent­ price rises.

  • Long before then, farsighted individuals had been advocating­ a change to what we now call alternative energy sources: solar energy, water power, wind power, wood and other non-fossil fuels.
  • Conservation was one reason, saving­ money was another, but equally important were ecological­ considerations­, for the growing use of oil and coal was polluting the earth, the air and the oceans.
  • Anyone who has walked barefoot on a sun-baked rock knows the meaning of solar energy. The sun is the Earth's greatest potential energy source and the one that holds the brightest promise for a constant, limitless and non-polluting supply of electrical power.
  • The sun's energy is so immense that it could melt a sphere of ice the size of the Earth in under 20 minutes.
  • The small proportion of that energy that actually reaches our planet in the form of heat and light is estimated to represent approximately 10,000 times the world's annual fuel consumption.
  • People have been trying to capture and use this free reservoir of energy since the dawn of history.
  • The ancient Greeks designed their houses around central sun-gathering courtyards 3,000 years ago.
  • The people of what is now the southwest United States orientated their cliff-face pueblos to trap the warmth of the winter sun.
  • Medieval Europeans used the sun to evaporate sea water to produce salt.
  • Modern forms of solar technology are of a more technical nature. A hundred years ago, solar systems were used to produce hot water in many Californian homes.
  • The first practical devices for generating electricity from the sun – photovoltaic cells – were produced in the United States in 1954.
  • Solar systems for heating water have been widely used throughout Canada since the 1970s.

Where solar stands today

  • The efficiency and relatively low installation costs of solar hot water systems have made them a cost-effective alternative to conventional water heaters in many regions.
  • This is especially true where gas and cheap off-peak electricity are not available.
  • In gen­eral, homes with high fuel bills stand to save the most by making the change to solar.
  • Where connection to the power grid is not an economical proposition, the juxtaposition of workaday rural dwellings and the latest thing in solar technology has become commonplace.
  • By contrast, electricity-generating solar systems are far less popular because of their high start up costs and the comparatively reasonable cost of mainstream electricity.
  • In general, a photovoltaic system is an attractive choice only for householders whose properties are not connected to the electricity grid.
  • If and when conventional energy sources escalate in cost and when technological developments bring down the cost of solar cells, a simple cost-benefit analysis may eventually decree the more widespread use of solar-generated electricity.

For obvious reasons, solar energy should be the way of the future. Especially for housing developments outside of power grids (or not invested in modern power grids yet), solar energy seems like the best choice. Even switching to solar energy in your own home (or part of it) can drastically reduce your carbon footprint and your energy bill. It's a win-win!

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