Our animated correspondent, ‘Little Lee Patrick Sullivan,’ continues our “Energy 101” series with an inside look at solar power technology. He breaks down the different types of solar devices and how they work, detailing the pros and cons of this renewable energy source.
Hi, I’m Lea Patrick Sullivan with energy now, and today I’d like to talk to you about the power of the Sun. Solar power is the most abundant most renewable resource we have. If we could collect 1/100 or 1% of the sun’s energy reaching the earth, it would be more energy than all humans use today. Just outside Yuma, Arizona is the sunniest place in the world. Ninety percent of the year the skies are clear and these southwest deserts have enough suitable land to supply 80% of the entire planets current use. The Sun has produced energy for billions of years and naturally energizes all of the plants on the planet. These plants give energy to animals and power the human body. This is done by a process called photosynthesis.
For decades now, scientists have unlocked the secrets of how a plant creates energy through photosynthesis, and can duplicate that process using modern technology in silicon. This process of creating electricity from the Sun can power our homes and cities. There are two ways of capturing the power of the Sun. First is, photovoltaic devices, more commonly known as solar cells, they change sunlight directly into electricity. These individual cells are joined together to make solar panels. These can be placed on rooftops and calculators and even on large scale fields covering many acres to power cities. Solar energy systems produce no air pollutants or carbon dioxide and, because they can be placed on the top of existing buildings, they do not require extra land for power plants.
Another way to capture the sun’s energy is by capturing its heat. Solar thermal electric power plants generate electricity by concentrating solar energy to boil water which then produces steam. This steam turns a turbine which moves a generator to produce electricity. Solar thermal electric plants consist of fields of mirrors to reflect the concentrated sunlight onto a receiver. The receiver then collects the solar energy and converts it to heat. The production of energy from solar thermal plants work essentially the same as fossil fuel power plants but, instead of producing steam from burning fossil fuels, the steam is made by the Sun. The only downside to this source of technology is that the power only exists as long as the Sun is up. To help solve this problem, other forms of solar technology have been explored.
Scientists are currently working on methods to store this energy for cloudy days and night time. One way to conquer this problem is building new power plants that combine a multitude of renewable energy sources using solar power and wind power, and biogas could do this. When one method is not creating electricity, the other could take over. Other methods such as storing excess power and batteries could also be a possible future for solar technology.