Solar power is electricity that has been generated using energy from the sun. At the moment, electricity is the type of energy most commonly used to perform work in human societies. Most of our appliances are completely dependent on electricity in order to function. A car is an example of a machine that runs on an alternative energy source, fossil fuel.
Any steam engine is another example of a type of energy that can be used to power machines. However, we’ve found electricity to be the most abundant and most efficient source of energy.
Therefore, when discussing diversifying energy sources, what is really being discussed is the fuel used to create electricity. The process of electricity generation was discovered by British scientist Michael Faraday in the early 1930’s. It involves the movement of a loop of wire, or disc of copper between the poles of a magnet.
The engines used to move the loop of wire are often heat engines, meaning they use the heat generated by burning a fuel in order to move the loop of wire or disk. In 2009 a survey revealed that the US mainly used coal, natural gas and nuclear plants to run heat engines. The renewable energy source that controlled a sizable piece of the market was hydro electric, in other words, using water to provide movement.
But a study by Greenpeace International, the European Solar Thermal Electricity Association, and International Energy Agency’s SolarPACES group predicts that concentrated solar power could account for 25% of the world’s energy needs by 2050.
Solar power is provided in two forms. CPS and PV. PV stands for photovoltaics is the form that most people think of when they think of solar power. It uses solar panels to convert solar radiation into direct current electricity using semiconductors. PV is growing in popularity, and is the third most used source of renewable energy after hydro and wind as 100 countries currently use it.
The second form of solar power is called Concentrated Solar Power, and it involves the concentration of a large amount of sunlight into a small area in order to generate heat. The heat is then used to run a heat engine instead of some sort of burned fuel, and the heat engine generates electricity.
New advances in CSP technology have brought down the costs associated with the construction of CSP power plants which has led Greenpeace International to predict the rapid growth of CPS as a source of energy. It may even overtake PV.
Whether CSP or PV, solar power plants are going to play a major role in the economies of a number of African countries, particularly Algeria which has the largest stretch of desert, Mexico and the southwestern United States. In a larger sense, solar power will affect the global economy as it allows for a reduction of reliance on fossil fuels, and a democratization of power generation due to home and business based solar arrays. It is an exciting time to be alive.