Today nearly half of the world’s energy is provided by petroleum. What began as a cheap and abundant way to provide energy, has become expensive, environmentally harmful, and finite. With population explosions and the demands of modern lifestyles, the world’s need for energy production has become far too much for fossil fuels to keep up with. Experts say that the Earth’s stores of petroleum will be depleted by 2050. The need to find a viable source of energy within this generation’s lifetime that can power cars and provide electricity to homes. Some of the alternative energy sources include: wind energy, nuclear energy, and solar energy. Of the three, only solar is capable of producing enough energy to power the world.
Solar energy producers fall into two separate categories: thermal solar collectors and photovoltaic panels. Thermal solar energy collectors are “a source of hot water that can be used for heating or for making steam to generate electricity” (Nersesian 2007). They are the simpler of the two types and much more inexpensive. They have many practical applications such as pool warmers and water heaters. Photovoltaic panels convert solar energy directly into electricity. They are large and the technology is still fairly expensive. Solar energy is a viable option to replace fossil fuels because it is the most financially viable long term, is a renewable resource that will not harm the environment, and each system can operate independently.
Of all the different alternative energy options, solar energy producers will save a homeowner the most money long term. With several “states offer[ing] rebates that cover a good chunk of the cost of photovoltaic systems and solar thermal systems,” (Woodside 2006) they are now definitely within reach of middle class families. A family that would like to produce most of their own power for a moderately-sized home will need a system that costs around $50,000. Combined with government rebates, the energy savings will pay for the panels within approximately 10 years.
To receive the government rebates, the system must feed excess energy back into the power grid, which is purchased at wholesale rates by the electric company. Install a large enough system and a homeowner can turn a profit selling energy back to the electric company. There are also a multitude of devices available for purchase that run off of solar energy. These cost very little and do not need to be plugged in or powered by batteries. The technology is also helpful with powering equipment that is not easy to get to, like emergency call boxes, and “solar photovoltaic cells can easily provide power to these remote devices, eliminating the need for batteries” (Keen 2009).
One of the most impressive selling points of solar energy is the fact that is completely renewable and green. The world’s current energy producers, fossils fuels, are running out at an alarming rate and pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Earth has an inexhaustible supply of energy in the sun which, to put things in perspective, sends energy “each hour equivalent to the amount of energy used by humans worldwide each year (Anderson 2013). There are power plants capable of producing energy day and night which are “thermal solar power producers capable of storing the heat generated and using it when the sun is not shining” (Red 2012). Replacing existing power plants which produce large amounts of pollutants as byproducts with these zero emission plants would make huge strides for better air quality and a healthier environment. Solar energy panels create no byproducts and once installed require no transportation, making it one of the greenest forms of energy production.
Once a system is installed, the house becomes a self-reliant, energy producing machine. The convenience of being unaffected by power outages and changing energy prices is a huge benefit. Some families are turning to solar energy solely for “independence from the powerful utilities” (Fimrite 2001). The technology gives people living in isolated areas that are not connected to the grid, the ability to power their homes. On a large scale, solar energy can lead to “decentralization in most (sunny) locations, meaning self-reliant societies” (Whitburn 2012). This means that, rather than a handful of large power plants producing most of the power the nation needs, a large number of small producers all over the country would produce the country’s power. Another huge benefit is that once the system is paid for a homeowner becomes completely independent because “the fuel is free and will never be subject to the ups and downs of energy markets” (Union for Concerned Scientists 2009). This is in stark contrast to oil, since most of America’s oil is purchased from foreign countries making the U.S. hugely dependent on them.
Seeing all of the benefits of solar energy, it is a wonder that America is still so largely dependent on foreign oil. Of the 13 trillion watts of energy the world consumed in 2001, “86 percent was derived from coal, oil, and natural gas” (Cunningham 2007). With the world’s energy needs expected to double by 2050, the need to invest in alternative energy has never been more apparent. In recent years, people have begun to take note and solar technology and research have begun to move forward in leaps and bounds. Hopefully one day soon, people will begin to realize that the electricity in their homes and the gasoline in their cars all come from very finite sources that will be depleted much more quickly than anyone thought. The fact is that “we already have the technology and energy resources we need to build a sustainable, solar electric economy that can cure our addiction to oil” (Heckeroth 2007). All that is required is for people to put the time and investment into making it happen. There are many benefits to replacing oil dependence with solar energy: ability to be self-reliant, money savings, and not harming the environment.
Anderson, D. (2013). Solar energy benefits and drawbacks. SFGate. Retrieved July 15, 2013 from http://homeguides.sfgate.com/solar-energy-benefits-drawbacks-79613.html.
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Keen, D. (2009). Environmental benefits of solar energy. Happy News. Retrieved July 15, 2013 from http://www.happynews.com/living/home-energy/environmental-benefits-solar-energy.htm.
Nersesian, R. L. (2007). Energy for the 21st Century: A Comprehensive Guide to Conventional and Alternative Sources. Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe.
Red. (January 7, 2012). Benefits of solar energy. Renewable Energy Development. Retrieved July 15, 2013 from http://renewableenergydev.com/benefits-of-solar-energy/.
Union for Concerned Scientists. (December 16, 2009). How solar energy works. Union of Concerned Scientists. Retrieved July 15, 2013 from http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/how-solar-energy-works.html.
Whitburn, G. (January 10, 2012). 13 fundamental advantages and disadvantages of solar energy. Exploringgreentechnology.com. Retrieved July 15, 2013 from http://exploringgreentechnology.com/solar-energy/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-solar-energy/.
Woodside, C. (2006). The Homeowner’s Guide to Energy Independence. Guilford, Connecticut: The Lyons Press.