While the human population is expanding, planet's energy demands continue to grow. For the last hundred years fossil fuels were the prime source of power in most countries. As industrial and technological growth increased, the Earth's atmosphere and waters have transformed into the waste dumps that caused environmental pollution. This pervasive phenomenon became responsible for the development of alternative energy sources that are less dependent on natural resources and more environmentally friendly. Thus, the reputation of solar power gradually started to rise. In present time, this is the main concept behind the sustainable energy provision. The purpose of this article is to examine technological changes and developments due to solar energy, future opportunities and future demands for clean sources of power.
Renewable energy sources are expected to contribute up to 35% of all electricity production by 2050 (Destouni, Georgia 19). Our Sun produces light and radiant heat that affects a number of systems on the planet that sustain life. It is capable of producing the yearly usage of power in just one hour (Pihl n.p.). Therefore, theoretically, this is virtually an unlimited resource. There are some limitations to solar power generation. High costs and low effectiveness in regions with poor Sun activity. However, while global energy prices are rising, the costs to solar power are decreasing. Photovoltaic and thermal technology projects are the two leading trends in the renewable energy developments.
“Solar cells” or photovoltaic devices (PV) are made of purified silicon that converts sunlight to electricity. Habitats in the remote locations make the most use of this technology (Shining light on a bright opportunity 3). For instance, testing and development centre has been built in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, in order to train and install solar technology to suit local needs. Huge PV modules are installed on the roof of the school building to provide electric power for the whole valley. In 2006 Rema, situated about 240 km north of the capital, became the first village to equip its 2500 dwellings with solar systems. This is by far the largest fossil-free development program in the country (Braden 35).
In the United States abandoned mining lands are extensively used for solar power plant construction. These sites are not suitable any more for other commercial developments, yet fulfil all the requirements for the large scale grid-connected solar energy projects . Plenty of open space and the abundance of sunlight create the perfect conditions for the extensive PV modules instalment. In Colorado a 15 acres, 2 Megawatt (MW) plant is situated at a former landfill site at Fort Carson. It generates 3 200 Megawatt-hours (Mgh) annually, a 2.3% of all yearly energy consumption of Fort Carson (Shining light on a bright opportunity 5). In 2009, the first 6 MW solar farm was installed on the Aerojet Superfund site near Sacramento, in order to carry out the ground water remediation program. It produces 20% of all the site's energy needed. In Southern Nevada the140 acres solar power plant generates 25 000 Mgh per year for the Nellis Air Force Base. The Arrays of 72 000 solar panels produce 25% of electricity use at the base (5). European Countries like Germany are among the first to implement former mining sites redevelopment (5). There are a number of similar plants near Leipzig.
Solar thermal power plants generate electricity by converting the Sun's energy into high temperature heat. Transfer fluid is heated inside the thermal collectors that produce steam to power a turbine. One of such installations is built near Boulder City, Nevada, at a cost of 260 million dollars and is in operation since 2007. The plant's output is 130 000 Mwh annually (4). The total electricity production from solar-based technologies has increased to more than 40 GW in the last 20 years (Timilsina, Kurdgelashvili and Narbel 4). Such rapid expansion of alternative power generating methods is linked to scarcity and constant rising prices of fossil fuels. Small-scale photovoltaic and heating panels for private and public buildings also create a considerable demand on today's market. These technologies provide homes with hot water and heating at a very small cost (Pihl n.p.).
Cleaning surface waters with solar rays is another advantageous method of utilizing the Sun's energy. Algal Turf Scrubber (ATF) is a biomass filter with naturally seeded filamentous algae that captures the energy of sunlight to produce its biomass from CO2 at a rate of 138 g per m2 per day. Wastewaters flow over tilted, enriched with oxygen surfaces of algae, while many toxic compounds are degraded. The biomass itself is harvestable and can be fermented to produce inexpensive methane and ethanol (Adey, Kangas and Mulbry).
Government officials all over the world gradually begin to work towards meeting the objectives of clean, sustainable energy production. In December 2012, the Council of the European Union derived an outline to achieve a share of 20% of renewable sources by the year 2020 (Council Conclusions on Renewable Energy). The government of India announced a plan to invest 20 billion dollars into solar energy by 2020 (Sharma). Obama administration with the Department of energy published environmental statement for solar energy development in six south-western states, permitting solar utility installation on public land (Obama Administration Releases Roadmap).
The potential ecological benefits of fossil-fee technology are vast: the remediation of contaminated lands, decrease of coal and oil extractions, reduction of emissions, water filtration. Economical influence includes job creation, tax revenue expansion, and economic development through the cost-effective production. In the resource scarce environment, it is sufficiently important to increase the security and independence of all the communities through the development of renewable energy sources.
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