Solar Energy And The Potential It Holds For The Future

Posted by Arindam Paul in Environment
March 7, 2018

As the global energy crisis is pressing upon us, it has become inevitable for us to look for alternative energy sources to meet the growing energy demands. Solar energy is one such alternative energy source that holds tremendous potential for both the present and the future of humanity. Every year, about 3,400,000 EJ (Exajoule) of energy reaches the Earth’s surface in the form of solar radiation – this amount of energy is much higher than all the energy sources combined, including fossil fuels and nuclear power. Thus, solar energy is without a doubt, the most abundant energy resource on our planet.

According to an MIT study paper, “Solar electricity generation is one of the very few low-carbon energy technologies with the potential to grow to very large scale.” In fact, in recent years, there has been a rapid growth in technological advancements, solar generation capacity, and development of efficient business models that have boosted investment in residential solar systems.

Evolution Of Solar Energy Generation

However, it would be wrong to assume that humans have just recently begun to harness the power of the sun, for it has been going on for ages. The earliest evidence of harnessing solar power dates back to the fifth century BCE in ancient Greece when people started to solve their energy crisis by planning the layout of their city and houses in a way that every home could benefit from the rays of the sun. Socrates stated: “…in houses that look toward the south, the sun penetrates the portico in winter, while in summer the path of the sun is right over our heads and above the roof, so that there is shade.” This statement is a testimony to the passive way of utilizing solar power in ancient Greece.

But the most significant advances towards tapping solar energy was made in 1954, with the birth of the first photovoltaic solar cell – David Chapin, Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson of Bell Labs created this silicon-based photovoltaic cell that could efficiently power up small electrical appliances. Their discovery laid the foundation for solar energy generation. The New York Times heralded it by saying:

“…the beginning of a new era, leading eventually to the realization of harnessing the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.”

After continuous research and advances made in technology, today, we have much more powerful photovoltaic systems that are capable of powering up residential areas, as well as industries. Furthermore, with the inclusion of AI in the renewable energy sector, it may become possible to generate solar energy on a large scale with the help of predictive algorithms of machine learning and deep learning. We sure have come a long way from the passive harnessing techniques of the past to an era where the power of the sun is being tapped actively.

The following comparisons will allow you to understand the potential of solar power better.

  • Every year, the amount of energy reaching the Earth in the form of solar radiation is twice the amount of all the conventional energy resources, combined!
  • The amount of solar energy that is received by the Earth per second is the equivalent of 4 trillion 100-watt light bulbs!
  • The volume of solar energy that is received in just one square mile in a year is equal to 4 million barrels of oil!

How Has The Energy Efficiency Of OPVs Improved Over The Past Few Decades?

Organic PV (OPV) cells or plastic PV cells are made out of carbon-based organic semiconductors. OPV cells depict a higher light absorption efficiency than their inorganic counterparts. During the initial period of development of the OPV technology, OPV devices had a very low power conversion efficiency, almost as low as 1%. But now, after years of research and improvement in this field, the efficiency of OPV devices has increased to a great extent. The first significant improvement came with the inclusion of ultra-low frequency AC field in aligning the p-n polymers during the fabrication process of OPV cells. The result was a 15% increase in efficiency primarily due to the enhanced morphology and an extended p-n interface. The constant innovations in this field have resulted in a higher efficiency of modern OPV devices.

This improvement in device efficiency is not just limited to the solar energy industry, but it extends to the energy sector as a whole. Advanced technological innovations in the energy industry have given us energy efficient devices that are durable and sturdy than conventional appliances, and they provide optimal performance at minimal energy consumption. One of the best examples is Atomberg Technologies’ Gorilla Ceiling Fan. Not only does this fan deliver outstanding air circulation, but it can cut down your energy costs by 65%! The development of such appliances is helping transform the appliance industry while benefiting the energy sector.

Power Consumption Of Household Appliances And Their Evolution Through Time

Before the development of renewable energy and energy-efficient appliances, household appliances were great energy-hoggers. They were not optimized to deliver high performance at low power consumption. Hence, these appliances would draw a large amount of energy every year, that would lead to rising utility bills.

This chart shows the consumption of a few commonly used household electrical appliances.

Appliance Wattage
TV(LCD) 150
TV(Plasma) 200
Dishwasher 1200-1500
Microwave 1000
Ceiling Fan 120
Air Conditioner 3000-3800
Desktop Computer 200-500
Iron 1000
Vacuum 1000
Well pump 500-2500
Water heater 2500
Washing Machine 800
Hair Dryer 1500
Incandescent Bulb 50-100

Gradually, with more research and development work being undertaken to find alternative energy sources such as solar energy, electrical appliances have evolved to a great extent. Since solar panels produce direct current, it has boosted the sales of DC appliances such as solar water heaters, solar fans, solar air conditioners, and solar lights, to name a few. As more people across the world incorporate these solar DC appliances in their homes, it eliminates the need for an inverter that converts direct current to alternating current for AC devices.

This shift from AC appliances to DC appliances powered by solar energy can be extremely beneficial for us. Not only will it reduce the pressure on the limited conventional energy sources of your planet, but it will also lead to the creation of energy efficient homes. DC appliances are known to consume less power which means reduced electricity bills.

But thanks to rapid technological advances, we now have access to energy efficient devices that promise outstanding performance while consuming very less energy. Almost all household appliances (TV, refrigerators, AC, fans, bulbs, tube lights, exhaust fans, dishwasher, etc.) are available in energy efficient models. The designs, quality of material, motors and parts of common household appliances have been experimented with to develop their energy efficient counterparts.

While the generation and production of solar energy on a massive scale and at affordable prices has yet to be achieved, our first prerogative should be to adopt energy efficient devices. So, while scientists continue to develop ways to harness the renewable energy resources, we can reduce the energy consumption significantly by using energy efficient appliances. This way one can lower his energy requirements, and thereby, reap the benefits of a small-scale solar plant, instead of incurring the costs of installing solar panels in your own house.

It is true that solar energy has a huge potential for solving the energy crisis that we are facing today, but the real change would be when we start living an energy-efficient lifestyle, by taking simple measures like monitoring and cutting down our energy consumption and adopting a green lifestyle. If every individual started now and began to do his part, our world will never want for energy.