Climate change is an issue that can no longer be ignored. Over the last couple of decades, we have started to see the first real effects of climate change begin to manifest themselves. Around the globe, there has been a significant uptick in the rates at which extreme climate events occur. In the United States, the last few winters have bought with them intense polar vortices that have sent temperatures plunging far below freezing.
At the other end of the country, California continues to battle increasingly intense wildfires. And, these wildfires are no longer anomalous events that occur in tandem with the summer heat, they are now burning all year round.
The question of how we can begin to mitigate or undo the effects of climate change is becoming increasingly pressing, but it isn’t becoming any easier to answer. There are no simple solutions to climate change, but there are some remarkably simple things that we can do to improve the current situation. Rethinking the way that we generate and store energy is one of the most important.
Of all the potential methods available to us for generating energy, there are two that stand out – solar power and nuclear fusion. Both of these methods offer, in principle, virtually limitless green energy. They are also closely linked in a number of ways.
Solar power captures energy from the heat or light given off by the Sun and allows us to utilize it. However, it is nuclear fusion within the core of the Sun that produces the heat and light that we rely on. Both of these energy sources are considered potential holy grails by energy researchers because of their staggering potential.
There is a serious disconnect in the way that the public perceives these technologies and the way that scientists perceive them. Energy researchers understand that our current solar power technologies need to be refined further in order to deliver on their full potential, but the public is increasingly demanding immediate solutions, not solutions we can use in a decade or two. Nuclear fusion is facing similar difficulties in that time and investment are needed before the technology can mature.
Why Choose Solar?
Setting aside our hopes for the future for a moment, what does solar power technology offer us today?
The biggest and most obvious advantage of solar power is that the Sun represents a truly unlimited source of energy. While the Sun has a finite lifespan, without the sun there is no life on Earth, so it becomes a moot point. One of the few things in life that we can all count on is that the Sun will rise every day and, until it sets again in the evening, will provide a constant source of energy.
Another often overlooked, but hugely important, advantage to solar power is that it can be shared and harnessed by every nation on Earth without anyone losing out – there is no need to compete for solar power. When we rely on scarce resources, whether for food, energy or other survival needs, we are opening the door to conflict further down the line.
With solar power, any nation can set up their own solar power facilities and these facilities will not be taking away energy from other nations or depleting vital resources on the Earth.
Not only could solar power ultimately reduce conflict between nations, but individual people will be able to generate their own energy with ease if we had solar cells that were as small and efficient as plants – more on that later.
Solar panels on roofs are becoming a more common sight and, over the course of several years, are able to pay for themselves in the amount saved on energy bills. In the future, solar panels could be all that a home needs. Moving from a centralized electrical grid to a system whereby each building is able to generate its own energy using solar would be a phenomenal step towards a greener future as well as more independence.
How Does It Work?
There are two types of solar power systems – those that harness the Sun’s light and those that concentrate and harness heat. The former is far more common and, if you are considering adding solar panels to your home, they will be photovoltaic, utilizing light instead of heat.
These solar panels consist of a number of smaller solar cells working in concert, each producing only a small amount of power. These cells consist of two layers of a semiconductor, usually silicon, which has been treated (or ‘doped’) so that they carry either a positive or negative charge.
By coating the top layer of silicon with phosphorus, extra electrons are added to the silicon, making it negatively charged. The bottom layer, meanwhile, is similarly treated with boron, which has the opposite effect, reducing the number of electrons in the silicon and, therefore, making it positively charged.
When particles of light hit the solar panels, they will sometimes knock electrons loose. When this happens, conductive metal plates on the side of each cell collect these loose electrons and transfer them to wires, through which they flow the same way that they would from a conventional battery.
As it exists today, solar power is able to offer us a cleaner and cheaper alternative to non-renewable energy sources. It is likely that we have only just begun to scratch the surface of what solar power might one day be able to do. But that doesn’t mean that you should write off the technology until then. If solar power is ever to blossom into the source of limitless clean energy that we hope for, it is going to require investment now.
We know that solar power offers us enormous potential because of plants. While there is still a great deal of mystery around how exactly plants are able to harness energy from the Sun, we know that they are able to utilize the energy of individual particles of light. Our current solar technology works differently to plants, but it is hoped one day that we will one day be able to produce artificial cells that are able to replicate the internal mechanics of plants.
That’s not to say that our current solar technology is useless – far from it. In fact, there are several great examples of current solar technology that illustrate its full potential. China and the United States are currently engaged in a very healthy and welcome solar power arms race. Since the rise of Trump and the corresponding decline of good ideas, China has begun to pull ahead as a world-leader in solar technology.
The Longyangxia Dam Solar Park is a fantastic demonstration of Chinese ingenuity. Situated on the Tibetan Plateau, the facility cost just under $1bn to construct. Since construction was completed in 2015, the solar park has been able to generate a whopping 850MW of power. This is enough power to power 200,000 average Chinese homes. While that is unquestionably a fine achievement, it also puts into perspective the scale of the challenge ahead of us – 200,000 homes is a lot, but there are cities in China with millions of people living in them. In a country of over a billion people, this is but a tiny fraction of what is needed to power the whole country.
Elsewhere in China, the Tengger Desert Solar Park in Zhongwei produces a higher sustained power output than any other photovoltaic plant in the world. It outputs a staggering 1,547MW of power, and the facility itself occupies 3.2% of the entire region. The size of the facility, 1,200 KM in size, makes it by far the largest solar park on the planet.
Solar Power in the United States
Despite the best efforts of certain political and corporate interests in the United States, there is still some groundbreaking work being done in the field of solar power technology within the US. California, in particular, has emerged as a leading global center for solar power technology. This isn’t surprising when you consider the state’s reputation for sunshine, the presence of the unforgiving Mojave Desert, and the prevalent counterculture undercurrent that has persisted in the state for more than half a century.
As of 2017, California has been producing around 11.79% of all its energy from solar power. That figure represents a total of 11,229.9 MW of power at any given time (though, presumably not night time). This makes California the largest generator of solar energy in the United States by a considerable margin. Successive legislative measures have been taken by California to encourage more individuals and businesses to adopt solar power. In terms of encouraging individual households to make the switch, California offers a blueprint for other states to follow.
Over the last few decades, California has been the home to a number of solar facilities that, at the time, were the largest in the world in terms of sustained power output. Given that California is home to Los Angeles, the second most populous city in the United States, and that CA is the most populous state in the country, it is an important target for solar power and could very well end up setting the trends that the rest of the nation ultimately follows.
Los Angeles is currently the solar power capital of the US, producing far more solar power than any other city in the US with San Diego, also in California, a distant second place. Solar power has been on the rise across the US with virtually all major cities experiencing an explosive growth in the prevalence of the technology over the last couple of years.
The increase in demand for solar power has been mirrored in the increase in solar companies in Los Angeles. There has also been a corresponding drop in solar panel costs in Los Angeles, making this valuable technology much more available to ordinary households. One of the most common tactics used to encourage more households to purchase solar panels is the offer of tax credits. The solar tax credit Los Angeles works out as 30% of the total that you spend on the solar panels.
If you are living in Los Angeles and have been sitting on the fence about adding solar panels to your property, Semper Solaris might be able to help. They are one of the best solar company in Los Angeles with a proven track record for providing high quality solar panels to households. Not only do they provide solar panels, but they also offer general roofing services, meaning you can combine a needed roof repair with the installation of solar panels. More excitingly, they are offering households the battery systems needed to store solar energy, something that many systems lack. With solar power in Los Angeles becoming more accessible and affordable, there has never been a better time to make the switch for your household.
In May of 2018, the California Energy Commission made a potentially monumental decision, voting unanimously that all new homes constructed in the state should be built with solar panels installed. New regulations will come into force at the beginning of 2020 that mandate that all new homes constructed that are under 4 stories tall will have photovoltaic solar panels installed on them.
While these are important steps in the right direction, they do not go as far as many campaigners are hoping that they ultimately will. However, there is a solid argument to be made that, given that California is investing in constructing solar-powered infrastructure and utilities to supply the main power grid, there is only so much to be gained by fitting very large and powerful solar panels to buildings. Having smaller panels playing a supplementary role makes more sense in the current climate (no pun intended). With climate change becoming an ever more pressing emergency, anything that we can do as individuals to make a difference is worth pursuing. Solar power technology is becoming more advanced, capable, and affordable as time goes on. If you are considering taking the plunge yourself, today is the day.