Solar Energy

In 1839, French physicist Alexandre-Edmond Bequerel discovered the Photoelectric Effect. In his observations, he discovered that certain materials would produce
a small current when exposed to light. However, it wasn’t until 1883 that Charles Fritts first coated the semiconductor selenium with a thin layer of gold to form the junctions needed to build the first solar cell; the device obtained roughly 1% conversion efficiency. The field of study soon became known as photovoltaics. First used in 1890, photovoltaics (PV) is derived from the Greek word photo for light and volt for the electricity pioneer Allesandro Volta. Thus, photovoltaic literally means light-electricity. And that’s what photovoltaic devices and materials do – they convert light energy into electrical energy. A well written technical document detailing the ins and outs of photovoltaics appeared in the September, 1993 issue of Physics Today – Photovoltaics: Unlimited Electrical Energy from the Sun, Jack L. Stone. A more gradual approach to learning the basics of PV is through the U.S. Department of Energy: Solar Energy Technologies Program. The DOE provides a high-level view of photovoltaics and allows you to zoom-in on the areas that are of interest to you. Citizenr? recommends reading the information provided by these links whenever you have the opportunity
In 1946 the first modern solar cell was patented by Russell Ohl (US Pat.# 2402662 “Light sensitive device”); however, the field of study didn’t actually gain momentum until the mid-70s when Saudi Arabia drew its oil sword and caused the first national energy crises. From that point on, the Photovoltaic or “PV” Industry began its journey to becoming a serious alternative to conventional energy sources
Today, solar cells have typical conversion efficiencies of 15 to 20%. R&D programs are pushing the science to achieve efficiencies of greater than 50%. PV is used for consumer applications like calculators and watches. It is used for Earth-orbiting satellites, remote telecommunication devices, municipal lighting, off-grid power, and grid-connected power through net-metering arrangements. The technology is very mature, well established, and remarkably reliable. To attest to its reliability, solar cells installed in the 70’s are still operating today
PV is poised to make a significant entrance into the global energy mix. On the other hand, even though the technology has matured and proven itself in several applications, the principal reason for its negligible presence is that it has not been financially feasible in the major market segments like residential grid-connected solar power systems. The cost of PV for a residential application is presently between $8 and $10 per watt. Considering that a residential customer typically needs a 5 kilo-watt system, the upfront cash layout for the average Joe is approximately $40,000 to $50,000 – a sum that is not easily come by. Even after substantial renewable incentives from the State and the Federal government, the cost of electricity still amortizes out to about 21.5 cents per kWh. That is between two and three times the average cost of electricity – a cost premium that is a significant barrier and the main reason the PV market is still in its early adoption stage
The present situation of the PV industry is the reason that Citizenr? is entering the scene. Citizenr? believes that photovoltaics should play a much more important role in our nation’s energy infrastructure, more than one fifth of one percent, and has actually laid the ground work to make that possible. The no up-front investment fixed price contract that is on par with present-day electricity costs is the mechanism that will push PV to the forefront. Without the primary financial barriers Citizenr? knows that we are at the edge of an epoch and that it is uniquely positioned to trail-blaze the commercialization of photovoltaics
Solar power provides a unique opportunity for creating jobs and reducing our trade deficits. It reduces energy imports and dependence upon foreign oil, which mitigates the risk of fuel-price volatility. Solar power improves grid reliability and supplies electricity when and where it is most limited and most expensive, making it a highly valuable and strategic contribution: solar electricity can guarantee a more stable energy economy. Below are a few more reasons as to why solar power is so important to us. Read through them to find out why, and then surf the links provided for additional information to really see how important solar power is
The Environment – PV has very little impact on our environment: it is one of the cleanest generation technologies available. In its operation, PV does not produce any air pollution or hazardous wastes. In contrast, traditional power sources are the primary source of ground-level air pollution, which causes severe health and environmental problems and is obviously a visible eye-sore to all communities. Furthermore, PV doesn’t release greenhouse gases, and therefore is a strong measure for mitigating global warming. Global warming is the cause of rising sea levels and regional climate shifts – both of which have a sever impact on ecosystems, agriculture, and coastal areas. See more about global warming in the concerns section. One more point to consider is that PV has no mechanical or moving parts, making its operation silent.
The Energy Grid – PV has an elegant design which allows it to be scaled and placed directly where power is consumed, or where the energy grid needs to shore-up capacity and energy for evolving demand. It is mobile and can be relocated with ease. In addition, it does not need to transport or use combustible fuels from divergent regions of the world; it uses a natural, abundant and free fuel source – the Sun. Because of this it can guarantee energy at times when demand is at its peak – seasonal and cyclical variations are well matched. All of this makes photovoltaics a sensible and secure candidate for enabling energy assurance. The grid can be designed to be redundant with a fixed energy price, as opposed to the shaky centralized infrastructure that is dependent upon unreliable fuel sources and is open to disruption from either natural disasters or man-made.
The Economy – August 14, 2003 – North America suffered the largest blackout in its history. Approximately 50 million people in eight states and parts of Canada were left in the dark. Power outages such as this one, according to the Electric Power Research Institute, Consortium for Electric Infrastructure to Support a Digital Society, cost the United States economy $119 billion dollars per year. Solar power can play an important role in mitigating power disruptions such as the one that occurred in August of 2003. Solar power is a distributed resource; it supports the grid by providing power at peak times of the day, reduces transmission requirements, and can continue supporting customers during downtimes. Two-thirds (66%) of the business surveyed in the affected area after the blackout claimed that they had lost at least a full day of business. To a quarter (24%) of these businesses, the loss of a business day translated into a $400,000 business loss (businesses stated a $50,000 per hour loss and assumes an 8-hour work day); to 4% of them, the loss was $1 million for each hour of down time. With the integration of a solar power system, this loss can be avoided. This is but one example of how solar power is a strategic contribution to our economy. Read more about the importance that solar power has on our economy at the U.S. Department of Energy: Solar Energy Technologies Program.
And You – PV to you means a stable energy price, a more reliable energy grid, a cleaner healthier environment, and more money flowing in our own economy. Solar power gives you a choice.
The Solution is a simple one. Zane Evan Wright
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