Humanity has always needed energy to produce items and do work, and for most of history, this energy came from human and animal labor. Blacksmiths made tools and weapons, for example, and oxen and horses drew carriages and plows. In the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution introduced the power of pressurized and heated steam, making steam ships and train locomotives possible (and factories as well). In the late 1800s, electricity became another major form of energy, pioneered by both Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. This new power source made more inventions and large-scale production possible, and fossil fuels were burned to produce this electricity. In the modern age, fossil fuel power plants are still in use around the world, but they have come under some scrutiny due to their constant pollution of the natural world. For this reason and more, cleaner energy sources have been developed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, including solar panels, wind turbines, hydroelectric dams, and more. What is solar energy, and how can understanding solar power transform the power grid? Solar panels can make all the difference once installed.
On Solar Power
An oil patch or a coal seam may eventually run dry, but solar energy will never be depleted. The Earth’s sun produces astronomical amounts of energy every minute of the day, even more than humanity can even make use of. Many times more solar energy flow across the Earth than is used in all of industrial civilization, and astronomers have long since reported that the Sun will shine for another five billion years or so. If solar energy and the sun exist on such an enormous scale, then solar energy is effectively infinite. Solar energy cannot be exhausted, and it is always present and ready to be put to use. Solar panels are the means to collect that power, and when solar energy strikes those panels, it excites the electrons inside them to generate power. This will add energy to whatever building or power grid the solar panels are attached to, and most notably, solar panels do not produce byproducts or emissions of any kind. This makes them a staple of the “going green” initiative. If enough power is coming from solar panels, then pollution-causing power plants can be shut down safely.
Solar panels were first pioneered in the 1970s, but the technology only recently became efficient and price-friendly enough for large scale installation of solar panels. By now, solar panels have emerged as a highly efficient and planet-friendly power source that in fact employs more Americans and drives more technological innovation than fossil fuels possibly could. In most important regards, solar panels and wind farms have not only caught up to fossil fuels, but surpassed them, and many people are taking advantage of this. Many European nations have announced plans to derive a large percentage of their energy from these clean energy sources, and are installing many solar panels and wind farms to that effect. Nations such as England, Ireland, Germany, and more have set public goals for their clean energy use within the near future, to set an example. The United States has not necessarily set a federal goal for solar panels’ use, but that is not to say that Americans are ignoring solar panels. Rather, there is a decentralized but large effort across the United States to use these panels, and many cities and states have set and announced their own solar panel usage goals.
What is more, these solar panels can be arranged into any scale of operation. Some solar panels are put on houses or commercial buildings’ roofs, and only provide power for that particular building. In fact, in the near future, it will be standard for new Californian houses to be built with solar panels on them, as an example. And of course, solar panels may be arranged into much larger arrays to collect solar power on an industrial scale. Out in the sunny wilderness, such as in arid Californian or Texan regions, hundreds or even thousands of such panels may be assembled into a single array. Such arrays may collect and provide power for entire neighborhoods or communities at a time, and are built in dry areas with little cloud cover to maximize sun exposure.
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