The sun provides us with light and warmth without asking for anything in return. It is truly magnificent and its resources can be so beneficial. Each hour the sun beams onto our Earth enough energy to satisfy all global energy needs for an entire year. Solar energy is the technology used to harness the sun’s energy and make it useable. As of this time, the technology produces less than one tenth of one percent of global energy demand. This is a small number in the grand scheme of such a useful resource and massive energy demand our planet consumes.
Solar energy has been applied to smaller scale use for quite some time. Most familiar is so-called photo voltaic cells, or solar panels, these are found on roof tops, spacecraft, and the little hand-held calculators. As sunlight hits the cells it knocks electrons loose from their atoms, when the electrons flow through the cell, they generate electricity. On a larger scale, solar thermal power plants employ various techniques to harness the sun’s energy as a heat source. The heat is used to boil water to drive a steam to generate electricity similar to coal and nuclear plants, providing electricity for thousands of people.
One such technique, uses long troughs of U-shaped mirrors which focus sunlight on a pipe of oil that turns through the middle. This hot oil then boils water for electricity generation. It is another technique that has recently been in the news. In Primm, Nevada, The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, which is stretched across about 5 square miles of federal land near the California-Nevada border formally opened in February. The delay was due to relocating tortoises and protecting other natural resources as well.
Ivanpah is being described as a marker for the emerging solar industry for the United States. It is a success story and cautionary due to the inevitable trade off between the need for cleaner power and the loss of fragile open land. The technology is known as solar-thermal, with nearly 350,000 computer-controlled mirrors about the size of a garage door to reflect sunlight to boilers atop 459 foot towers. The sun’s power is used to heat water in boilers tubes and create stream, which drives turbines to create electricity. This plant is situated amid miles of rock and scrub along busy Interstate 15. The vast array of mirrors creates the image of an ethereal lake shimmering atop the desert floor although it is built on a dry lakebed. Solar technologies are quite expensive and this project is no exception. The System used 1.6 billion in loans and $168 million in investments to get started. The payoffs will hopefully prove success, and the solar plant impacts the environment but certainly the benefits of the project should outweigh some of the damage done.
A bright outlook for the future makes solar energy a definite positive start. This project shows that building a clean-energy economy can create jobs, curb greenhouse gas emissions and drive the American innovation.