Chris is a student from Penfield, New York. He is actively engaged in music, and was accepted to the All-Eastern Honors choir. He is an accomplished swimmer, as a sectional champion and second place state finalist. In addition, he has been actively involved in many medical interniships at the University of Rochester, as he intends to pursue a career in medical research. Though his career interest is in medicine, he has been interested in green technology and alternative energy since a young age. In 5th grade, he created a hydrogen fuel cell dispaly, with a hydrogen fuel cell he constructed himself. He has done amateur experimentation in fuel cell technology, as well as with photovoltaic cells and carbon zinc batteries. He is a strong advocate for alternative energy, and believes the future of global energy will come from human ingenuity.
Without further ado, I give you Chris's article, "The Future of Solar Energy."
The Future of Solar EnergyVoyager 1 was launched on September 5th, 1977, to explore the outer reaches of our solar system. Its goal was to visit Jupiter and Saturn, then using their gravity as a slingshot, shoot itself into deep space. NASA even included a set of Gold plated records, containing diagrams of our solar system’s position in the galaxy, and pictures and sounds of our culture and environment should any intelligent life find the probe. We knew it would be the first manmade object to leave our solar system.
In August of 2012, Voyager’s sensors began to report drastic changes in the solar radiation surrounding it. Through the next few months, the radiation levels continued to drop, until in March of 2013, solar radiation levels plummeted to one percent of previous amounts. In addition, galactic radiation levels increased to nearly two times the previous amounts. This was the proof that NASA was looking for that Voyager had departed the solar system, as these changes indicated that voyager had officially left the Heliosphere, which was believed to be the edge of our solar system.
However, on March 20th, 2013, NASA’s Jet Propulsions Laboratory (JPL) declared that Voyager had not left the solar system. This came a complete shock to the scientific community, as Voyager 1 had now reached a distance of 18.5 billion miles, so far that it takes light, what most of us think of infinitely fast, almost a full day to reach the probes. Despite all of this, against all basic intuition, scientists have concluded that the probe is still within the sun’s grasp, greatly influenced by its release of energy.
Think of how far away this probe is. It has been flying through space for over 35 years, reaching a distance of 18.5 billion kilometers, the furthest object man has sent into space, yet it is still within our sun’s influence. The sun is unimaginably large and powerful. The energy output from the sun (in the form of light) is equal to 3.846 × 1026 watts, or 3.846 × 1033 ergs/sec. The largest power plant humans have ever built generates around 7 Giga Watts of power. Now those numbers are hard to compare, so let me put it this way. You would need 10 million of these power plants, per human being on earth, to just about equal the power of the sun. Maybe that’s still not sinking in, so I’ll try again. One single second of the sun’s energy output would power the United States (at current usage levels) for 9 million years.
It’s difficult to comprehend this amount of energy, but the point I’m trying to make is: why are we letting this go to waste? We are quite literally letting it fly right by us into the depths of space. Solar energy can change the way our world does energy, and it’s only getting better.
A photovoltaic cell, more commonly called a “solar cell” or “solar panel”, is a device that converts the sun's energy into electrical energy. This occurs through the use of semiconductor materials such as silicon (the most commonly used material), which, when struck by a photon, absorbs the energy and causes the release of a free moving electron- this free electron is what we know as electricity.
The first solar cell was produced in 1839- almost 200 years ago. The design has gone under little innovation and advancement since then, and it wasn’t until the past few decades that the technology has been looked at as a serious alternative energy source. The first solar park (or a power plant composed entirely of solar cells) was constructed in 1982 in California. The plant built there originally had an energy capacity of 5.6 Mega Watts, however modern plants are reaching upwards of 200 and 300 Mega Watts.
Granted there has been much advancement in solar energy, there are still draw backs. First, solar panels require a large surface area to generate enough energy to make a difference, which is why these solar parks are sometimes undesirable. They just take up too much space. The other drawback is that a solar plant does not provide a steady stream of energy such as a coal or nuclear plant because the sun is not present in the sky 100% of the time.
That being said, solar energy can still be a valuable tool toward providing clean and sustainable energy. There are even some things that you as an individual can do to take part in the future of energy.
Replacing your roof with solar cells
At first this might seem like a bit of an extreme change to make to your life style, but let’s look at the benefits before you jump to any conclusions.
• Reduced heat conduction into your house because black light absorbing shingles are replaced with electricity generating solar cells, reducing the need for air conditioning in the summer.
• Generates up to 5.47 KWs of usable energy for the home.
• A cut in utility costs per month of up to 2/3.
Solar power is definitely going to play a role in the future of the American (and global) energy infrastructure. Unlike traditional coal or nuclear power plants, a large part of solar impact on the world could be decided by regular consumers like you. If every home and business in the United States replaced their roofs, or even a portion of their property, with solar panels, the estimated energy production would cover 1/3 of the United State’s total energy usage. As solar technology continues to improve, become cheaper and more readily available, its applications are almost limitless. The price of solar cells is now about half of what it was only 2 years ago, and it continues to drop.
The future of clean American energy doesn’t lie in a laboratory somewhere. It isn’t some magical technology that we haven’t invented or discovered yet. It isn’t some expensive machinery only billion dollar corporations can own and operate. The future of clean, renewable energy will come from right above your heads, in the form of a simple, efficient, and cost effective alternative to standard roofing.
Thank you for reading! If you have any questions for Chris regarding his article or renewable energy technology, you can contact him at Chrisrsjg@gmail.com
Please stay tuned for tomorrow for "Activism Spotlight" and "Suggested Reading."