What Are The Limitations Of Solar Energy?

Tim Hamlin
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Taming the Weather

The sun is the ultimate source of power in our solar system, providing a trademark energy that is both renewable and free of external costs.

Despite efforts to establish solar energy as a viable source of power in modern society, solar is still only a small fraction of the total global energy supply.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, solar power accounted for only 0.4% of the total energy produced in the United States in 2015.

Though this energy supply amounts to about half of one percent of the country energy supply, the future for solar power is looking bright.

Originally, solar power was used primarily to power navigational clocks, though that may have been a bit of a stretch.

In more recent years, the use of solar power has expanded to include things like calculators, laptops, and even sports cars, which travel at world-class speeds.

In addition, solar energy is also used in the production of power, in the form of solar power towers. These towers are used to convert the sun’s radiation into heat, which in turn provides power to the sun’s surroundings.

Farms are beginning to use solar power as well, which falls in line with companies like Tesla and others, providing clean, renewable solar power to homes and businesses that are off the grid or function partially on the grid.

Paying For The Sun

Questions And Answers About Solar Power

"The sun is a big place, and it's up there all the time for everyone," said staff writer Dan Neil.

That's true. Solar power is abundant and available even when the electric grid goes down. Solar panels can keep your refrigerator humming and your power tools working even during Hurricane Sandy´´ or the great power failure of 2003.

And solar panels only create electricity when the sun shines. But there are a few reasons why solar power may not be your best option:

Depth of the solar cell: If the solar panel wants to generate electricity from the sun, it must absorb the sunlight and it also contains a layer of silicon to do this. The greater the depth of the solar cell, the more light it absorbs. Typically, a higher depth solar panel like the Sunny Boy 2400TL will absorb more of the light than a shallower cell solar panel. This causes it to create more electricity and cost less than a shallower panel.

The angle of light: Solar panels work better when sunlight hits them at a 90-degree angle. Changing the angle of the sun's light can decrease the efficiency of the panel. Typically this happens when you try to mount the solar panel to the roof of your car so that it can power your car stereo. You want the sun to shine directly down on the solar panel so that the solar panel absorbs the most sunlight possible.

Efficiency Is The Key

The biggest problem with solar energy on your home is getting the most out of the solar panels that are installed on your home. There are two major components of solar energy efficiency to think about:

BATTS: Batteries are another area of solar limitations. Today’s solar panels can accumulate energy during the day, but often cannot store much for use in the evening or night. Therefore, a battery bank is necessary to account for these times when there is no sun available. Battery banks can cost thousands of dollars to install, depending on how much power you use and how many batteries you purchase. This is why many people just rely on the grid to provide backup power in case there is no sun to generate electricity for their home or business. However, just because you are using solar for your needs does not mean you need to put up with poor electricity service from your electrical utility company.

A Mountain To Climb

While the potential is limitless, the technology to fully and efficiently capture and utilize solar energy is still in its infancy. The challenge is cost and efficiency.

Current economics put solar energy out of reach for the average consumer. The expense of buying the technology, of paying the electric company the limited amount of energy you're able to install to the roof, and of paying the continued expense of a technician to maintain the system make it pretty unattractive for the average consumer.

However, the rapid advancement of technology suggests the future will be bright as more efficient solar technologies are introduced and prices continue to fall.

Keeping it Clean

If you are trying to harness the power of the sun, be aware that any collection of dust or particles will reduce the efficiency and the function of your device. Like any collector system, the solar cell cannot and should not be cleaned aggressively. A thorough wipe down with a cloth and a little water will do, but should never be pushed beyond that.

Ready To Recycle?

Solar cells, which are another type of renewable energy device or systems, are made from semiconductors, a material that can be made from metals such as copper, aluminum, and silicon. When sunlight hits these cells, photons have energy that makes electrons move around in the semiconductor, which in turn, produces electricity.

In the most common type of solar cell, called a single-crystal silicon cell, the semiconductor is made of silicon and is about as thick as the length of a wavelength of light. This material is about 97.5% pure silicon.

Not only that, but you can also recycle solar panels. First, you need to know whether or not the solar panels you want to recycle are constructed with hazardous materials or toxic substances. If they are not, you should be able to recycle them, with or without the help of experts. These panels should be dismantled and then made into separate solar cells.

This process is called "degaussing." Next, technicians should assemble the solar cells into a panel, clean them, and then seal them. This is usually about an 8-day process.

After that, the panels may get a new coat of protective paint and be sold. Most likely, the hospital that has the panels will sell them. If not, the panels will get sold to another distributor or end up on the open market.


Time Is Running Out

Electricity generation that relies on oil, coal, and nuclear power is one of the leading causes of air pollution. It takes a lot of fuel to produce electricity. In 2008, coal-fired power plants accounted for 31% of all carbon emissions in the U.S.

The problem with harming the environment by generating electricity is the race against time. The environment and climate change are not going to wait for us to switch to cleaner, safer alternatives.

So we must switch to cleaner energy now before it’s too late for our children and future generations. In 2011 scientists were looking for ways to speed up the innovation process to find and implement renewable energy sources.

To do this, they are turning to the crowd for help. They are looking for people like you to help catalyze the process of making renewable energy sources cheaper, more efficient, and more available.

How Can You Do This? By participating in the DoE’s SunShot Initiative’s Solar Decathlon.

In the Solar Decathlon, universities and companies pitch solar cell technology to the public in a competition designed to provide the public with the energy it needs while cleaning the air.

Final Thoughts

Anytime you have a discussion about solar energy, people will bring up the main disadvantage of solar energy, which is it’s less efficient in colder climates.

Generally speaking, it’s less efficient year’round in colder climates, but even in these climates there are plenty of situations in which you can benefit from the use of solar energy.

For example, let’s say you get a convertible or another car which can’t be left outside. You don’t have a driveway. You have a carport. That’s not a problem. There are still ways for you to make use of solar energy.

Second, what if you live in an apartment and you can’t put up a solar panel array?

That’s not a problem either. You can take advantage of solar energy offered by some solar companies for free.

For example, you can get a solar blanket for your pool, so that water doesn’t evaporate and run up your water bill.

Or, you can get solar panels installed on your home. This will help you lower electrical bills.