The atmosphere, oceans and land mass of the Earth absorbs enough energy from the sun in one hour to power the entire planet for one year. Surely we are clever enough to capture some of this magnificent force and use it to fuel our environment.
Solar energy and its use can be divided into two areas. Those are static or passive solar energy collection and dynamic, or perhaps better termed, kinetic solar energy collection and use.
An example of passive solar energy collection would be building a house so that the windows face the morning sun in colder climates. An even more rudimentary example would be that of an alligator sunning himself on the edge of the water. In both cases the sun’s energy is simply absorbed for warmth. And the simplest use of solar energy is as the very daylight we walk about in. Our Earth automatically uses the power of the sun in millions of ways. Not the least of which is photosynthesis by plants for production of oxygen for our atmosphere. Ours is an inherently rechargeable renewable world, provided we use our resources such as solar energy wisely.
To that end, we must examine dynamic solar energy collection for the production of warmth and light.
When you walk though almost any shopping mall built in the last twenty years you will probably notice a flood of bright natural light all around you. Most large malls and department stores are built with double paned insulated windows that allow light to enter yet keep heating or cooling locked inside. But what happens when the sun follows its arc away from those windows? Active solar lighting can use mirrors that track with the sun’s movement and then reflect light into fiber optic cable that can carry that light into any part of our same department store.

We can create transfer warmth through various forms of solar thermal energy. Since the 1950s it has not been uncommon to see simple glass paned boxes filled with copper pipes used to help heat water for swimming pools and boilers. These low temperature collectors are fine for space heating but there are far more effective ways to heat water with the sun’s rays and put that water to work.
High temperature parabolic shaped mirrors can heat water to far greater temperatures than made possible by our simple rooftop hot boxes. In fact bowl and trough type mirrors can boil water to steam which in turn uses a turbine to generate electricity for heating, air conditioning and general power supply. When properly applied, this concentrated solar power can supply 50% of the power needs for a modern factory. Concentrated Solar Power is one half of our method for creating electricity from the sun’s radiant energy.

The most commonly thought of use and form of solar energy conversion is that of relying upon solar voltaic cells. These solar cells are also called photovoltaic. First developed in the 1880s, photovoltaic cells rely upon the electronic reaction of certain key elements to the Sun’s rays so as to produce a tapable flow of electrons that are in turned used to create current flow. In short photovoltaic cells turn sunlight into energy. And lest we think we are so clever for figuring out how to do this, consider that plants have been turning sunlight into energy for millions of years.
Advances in the development of photovoltaic cells have increased drastically since the oil shortages of the 1970s. This is primarily due to development of silicon technologies. Crystalline silicon cells when working in conjunction with CSP (concentrated solar power) as supplied by parabolic mirrors have improved output from Photovoltaic cells by a factor of 50 since their more basic development in 1954. Increases in demand and subsequent increases in production have lowered the price of solar cells to the point that they are now almost competitive with wind power technology and like their low emissions wind counterparts are far less costly than nuclear power.
Development, deployment and economics

Solar Electric power as supplied by huge banks of photovoltaic cells is providing billions of watts of power throughout the world.

Where? How Much? Horse Hollow equivalent?

While not producing power on near the scale of wind driven turbines, solar panels are definitely a viable source of clean power. The state of Hawaii currently produces 6.5% of its power through sustainable energy practices with tremendous emphasis on solar panel power. That is only half the clean energy production of California. The objective of Hawaii to produce 70% of all their energy needs by 2030 is in some ways more attainable than the 33% goal of California.
Basically, the captive and controlled environment of Hawaii is a perfect testing ground for renewable energy. When one lives on an island, or in this case a chain of islands, a certain self sufficiency is always part of the lifestyle.
Enter into the equation the state of Hawaii’s willingness to support private industry in development of green energy projects and you have solar plants such as the one built at Kona, Hawaii by Sopogy. Sopogy stands for Solar Power Technology. It is an extremely passive method of converting the sun’s rays to usable energy. Considering that only one third of our energy needs are directly related to electrical power and you will understand how in some ways simply energy production such as using Sopogy’s parabolic solar mirrors to heat water that can either directly heat and cool or indirectly be used to spin electricity creating turbines is almost five times as effective as a photovoltaic cell.

But let’s not discount solar cell technology quite yet. On 247 acres in Jumilla, Spain the world’s largest solar power from photovoltaic cell production facility is now in operation. While the facility produces nothing near the power as does a huge wind farm such as those in place in Southern Australia, the amount of power generated per acre is not to be dismissed. The solar plant in Jumilla creates enough power to light, heat and cool 20,000 homes. On a comparable basis the 47,000 acres used for the Horse Hollow wind farm could yield 3800 megawatts of power. That is five times as much as the wind farm. Granted the farm land can be used for other purposes simultaneously and the cost of solar does not yet permit such a huge creation. But there are hundreds of thousands of places around the globe where a spare 250 acres can be found. Each of those little plots of sunny land can contribute to the overall sustainability of the Earth.

Yes it is true that conditions in Southern Spain are perfect for such an operation with sunlight available at least 300 days a year, but almost every spot on the globe has its own special opportunities for green energy production. Think of it this way, in places that are gray and cloudy there is usually wind, in places where there is no wind the sun is usually bright.

Solar Power Arithmetic – The cost of solar cells
Part of the allure of solar power produced by photovoltaic cells is the potential profitability. Consider the cost to revenue structure of the Jumilla, Spain solar farm. At the present time, high yield (15% efficiency) photovoltaic solar installations cost around 6 dollars per watt. The world’s largest solar farm sits on just 247 acres and cost about 200 million dollars to build. Gross revenues from the electricity generated at the plant will exceed 20 million dollars annually. This means a return of investment in under 15 years, allowing for maintenance and labor. The solar farm also generates over a million dollars a year in carbon credits. Obviously a solar plant does not need a constant infusion of coal, or other fossil fuels to create energy. Some might think a 15 year wait for return on investment is far too long. Indeed solar and wind power speculate on the overall rise in hydrocarbon fuel costs. A coal fired power plant costs one fifth as much to build as does a solar wind farm on a per watt basis. And even factoring the cost of fuel to burn, fossil fuel power is cheaper, but for how long and at what ultimate cost. Mass production and massive investment in photovoltaic cell research will quickly move the cost per watt for solar power into the 3 dollar range. One little blip in the world’s political stability can drive the cost of fossil fuels to double. If and when that happens solar power will be a bargain.


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