In the country that invented the solar panel, solar energy still only produces less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity. But as the price of solar power continues to fall and as states, such as California, mandate that a third of all power come from renewables by 2020, solar energy could become a major player in electricity production.
Solar Energy is the energy that is produced by the sun in the form of heat and light. It is one of the most renewable and readily available sources of energy. Solar energy has been used by people since ancient times by using simple magnifying glasses to concentrate the light of the sun into beams so hot they would cause wood to catch fire.
The collection of thermal radiation from the sun is relatively easy, and involves the use of a fluid passing through a heat sink exposed to sunlight. The circulated fluid can be used as a heat source, or if concentrated, be used to turn a wheel or turbine to generate electricity; however, the materials needed to produce solar cells can be rather expensive.
Although solar energy is considered to be one of the cleanest and renewable sources of energy among the available sources but is has some environmental impacts too. Solar energy uses photovoltaic cells to produce solar power. However, manufacturing the photovoltaic cells to produces that energy requires silicon and produces some waste products. Inappropriate handling of these materials may lead to hazardous exposure to humans and the environment. Furthermore, installing solar power plants may require large piece of land, which may impact existing ecosystems.
Future of Solar Energy
In recent years manufacturing costs of photovoltaic cells has dropped by 3-5% per year while government subsidies have increased. While to some such facts about solar energy seem trivial, this makes solar energy an ever-more affordable energy source. In the next few years it is expected that millions of households in the world will be using solar energy.
Whether they’re on a house or an industrial solar field in the desert, solar panels have always been one shape: flat. MIT Engineering Professor Jeffrey Grossman, inspired by the ways trees spread their leaves to capture sunlight, developed a 3D solar panel. Unlike with flat solar panels, these new 3D panels can actually pick up almost as much electricity on a cloudy day as it can when it’s sunny out. Read more about Professor Grossman’s work HERE.
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