The ‘Electric’ Sun

With dwindling crude oil now hovering in the $65 to $70 per barrel range, and worries about continued global warming being one of the worlds most talked about environmental topics, interest in solar energy is becoming more and more popular in today’s world. That’s right, the sun, or Sol as many still refer to that huge, gaseous ball of energy, 93 million miles away; around which the plant earth rotates once every 365 days. In fact, we humans, and all life for that matter, are so utterly dependant on the sun’s continuous supply of energy, that if deprived of it – for even a few hours, drastic climatic and environment effects will take place.

Interest in harnessing energy from the sun is not new; and even ancient philosophers and astronomers constantly tried to think up ways to utilize more of the sun’s life giving energy. Within the past fifty years, these dreams have begun to become reality as scientists and engineers have begun to create the means of generating energy from the sun’s rays. Israel is one of the pioneers in this endeavor, as the leaders of this tiny country realized from the outset that with little natural energy resources available, ways must be found to create energy at the lowest costs possible. These endeavors have resulted in the majority of homes and apartment buildings having solar energy converters to heat water. Though primitive by many standards, these sun boilers, are composed of two or three large solar ‘collection’ plates, warming water as it flows through them, and afterwards stores the water in insulated tanks for use afterwards – especially at night. Condominium buildings in Israel are now required to have a series of these plates installed to collect enough hot water for use by several families at a time.

While this method has helped save on energy costs, more ambitious researchers all over the world are working of ways to use the sun’s energy to create electricity; enough electricity to run one’s electric powered car, operate appliances and machinery, and keep people comfortably cool in summer and warm in winter. These new photovoltaic or solar electric systems are being designed to convert the sun’s rays into plentiful, low cost electricity. Photovoltaic or PV systems evolve around a specially made crystalline silicon material resembling strips of PVC. This material, when hit by solar rays, creates electricity by a photo-chemical process not much different than the more primitive sun boilers already mentioned. Enough of this material, built into the roof and hood of a car, or affixed to the porch or roof of a house, can create enough electricity to actually operate electricity powered motors – as long as sun shines, that is. The main challenge up to now is storing this energy for use when Sol has either gone to bed or is ‘hiding’ behind a blanket of clouds. Scientific laboratories are still trying to perfect fuel cells and other energy storing devices that will enable this electricity to be stored (like in a large battery) and used as needed. Obviously, solar energy powered devices will work better in locations where the sun shines at least 300 or more days a year; which is why locations such as the Middle East, the American Southwest, and other ’sun friendly’ locations will benefit the most from solar power.

Solar energy is also one of the most environmentally friendly energy sources as well; and could one day help reverse the damage already caused by over-use of fossil fuels. It’s about time everyone, including major oil companies, see the potential benefit of “going (solar powered) electric”.

Source: US Department Energy Site