As our modern society works to decrease its reliance on fossil fuel and move toward sources of clean, renewable energy, few choices are more practical than that of solar energy.
Solar energy is, simply put, the energy that is given off from our sun. This energy can be harnessed through various types of technology that take the light or heat it captures from the sun’s radiation and converts it into electricity that we can use. This can be done through the use of photovoltaics, molten salt plants, artificial photosynthesis, or by other means. However, the most likely source of power that comes to your mind when you hear the phrase “solar energy”, is probably solar panels.
The majority of us have seen solar panels. In fact, you probably see them every day. They are becoming more and more integrated with our modern power infrastructure. You see them powering everything from street lights to residential homes. Few, though, know very much about how these incredible inventions work. Solar energy panels are made up of tiny units known as “solar cells”. Most commonly, these cells are made up of silicon crystals that are sandwiched between conductive layers. Without getting too deep into the science, these solar cells use light (photons) from the sun to free electrons from atoms and feed that electricity through the system and to you (the consumer) as usable energy.
So why do we need solar energy?
The benefits of solar power are numerous. As mentioned, solar power is fully renewable. As long as we have energy from the sun radiating down to earth, we have an almost unimaginably vast amount of potential power to harness from it. And if the sun does stop giving us that energy, well then we won’t be around to worry about electrical power sources at all. But as long as the sun is shining, it is a practically inexhaustible source of potential fuel. Perhaps best of all, nobody can put a cap or a meter on our individual use of that energy. With solar panels alone, all that is required to harness said energy, aside from the panels themselves, is the space necessary to install and display the panels. Solar power panels last a long time and are also cheap to maintain compared to other sources of energy. It generates less pollution and reduces our carbon footprint. Another major benefit is that solar power lowers our reliance on energy imports, and creates new job opportunities for local residents of areas that adopt this technology. So if supporting your local economy is on your list of priorities, solar energy is definitely an avenue worth considering.
Solar power isn’t without its drawbacks. Even this amazing innovative technology has cons (though they are comparatively light when weighed against the benefits). One of these cons is the fact that we actually need the sun to be out for the energy generation process to work. Some places tend to be cloudy for the vast majority of the year, drastically reducing the potential for the production of electricity through solar energy. Even in places where the sun shines often, it is only out during the daytime, thus confining the actual energy production to a period of, usually, a few hours. This obviously isn’t ideal. Because of these issues, solar power can be a bit inconsistent. If you have a particularly rainy and cloudy season, relatively little energy will be produced compared to what you would have had in a sunnier season. This is one aspect of this technology that is currently out of our control.
As you might have concluded, some places are much better suited to be productive sources of solar power than others.
North Carolina is one of these places. And its residents are beginning to take advantage of it. Specifically, over the past 10 years, NC has increased its use of solar power well over 1000 fold! As the material costs continue to get cheaper, we can only expect this usage to increase. North Carolina has actually become one of the leading states pioneering in its transition to the use of renewable solar energy.
This is good news for everyone in NC. As the use of solar energy increases, it’s reasonable to conclude that the air will be cleaner, energy will be cheaper, and many more jobs will be created throughout the state.
I would like to thank Solar Energy North Carolina for this GREAT article!