Solar power is widely used and is projected to be becoming a prolific energy source for the future. Today, solar energy supplies electric power to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. More than ten thousand are employed in the solar energy market that produces revenues of at least $1 billion dollars. The advantages of solar power are obvious. It is an abundant, non-polluting, and free energy resource as long as the sun shines.
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The sun provides the earth with 10,000 times more energy than its people consume, however, this resource remains essentially unexploited. “Solar power is a prime choice in developing an affordable, feasible, global power source that is able to substitute for fossil fuels in all climate zones around the world” (“Solar Generation”, 2003). To understand its potential impact in South Australia, it is necessary to explore how this technology works, how efficient it is and its possibilities for the future, particularly in South Australia.
The way that solar power works is through what are termed photovoltaic cells. These cells are becoming increasingly more refined thanks to new technologies being developed around the world, including South Australia. Basically, though, “the PV cells consist of a positive and a negative slice of silicon placed under a thin slice of glass. As the protons of the sunlight beat down onto the PV cell they knock the neutrons off the silicon.
The negatively charged free neutrons are attracted to the silicon but are trapped by the magnetic field that is formed from the opposing fields. Small wires on the silicon catch these neutrons and when connected in a circuit an electric current is formed” (Lenkefi, 2005). Current technology in South Australia is primarily in the market of solar water heaters with nearly 5 percent of homes employing them, but the use of solar panels to generate the electricity needed for a home, never high, has been declining (Fyfe, 2003). This decline has led some companies, such as Origin Energy and Pacific Solar, to begin work on new technologies that would reduce the levels of expensive materials and thus drive the overall cost of solar panels down.
South Australia should have a strong interest in developing solar power technology as a means of competing with an increasingly global marketplace, as a means of reducing greenhouse gases, and as a means of more effectively meeting the needs of a growing urban population. According to a report by Jeffrey Gordon (2001), “the increased industrialization and urbanization of recent years have dramatically affected the number of urban buildings leading to major effects on the energy consumption of this sector.”
It is known that larger cities create what are called ‘heat islands’ in which increasing amounts of energy are required to keep buildings and people cool and operational. South Australia’s already over-extended power grid will not be able to keep up with the demands of this type of urban growth unless more individuals can be enticed to install solar panels and begin feeding back into the power grid.
Part of the problem of trying to encourage individuals to invest in solar energy is the expense coupled with the payoff. Although many governments, including that in South Australia, have offered various sorts of rebate packages to encourage investment in the technology and thus hopefully drive the price down to a more competitive figure, the effects of these types of programs have not been significant enough in Australia.
According to Fyfe (2003), “Grid-connected PV systems – at around $14,000 after a $7500 government rebate – are still too expensive for most people.” At the same time, the gains made as a result of these solar panels have not been significant enough to encourage further investment because “solar panels rarely provide the total energy needs of a house, but if people have solar hot water and are energy efficient the panels can provide the bulk of it” (Fyfe, 2003). Again, though, with increased interest and technology development, both the cost of the technology as well as its efficiency may eventually be brought into closer alignment, becoming both available to the average Australian and capable of fully powering the household as well as feeding into the main power grid.
While it is unlikely that solar power will be able to completely replace the burning of coal or gas in the immediate future, the development of more efficient and less costly technologies may help to alleviate some of the present concerns over global warming. Used in conjunction with other sustainable energy generation, such as geothermal energy or wind energy, solar energy may be capable of reducing the tremendous drain on national power grids while continuing to provide citizens with the quality of life to which they’ve become accustomed.
With other efforts, such as alternative means of transportation that do not burn fossil fuels, these sustainable energy sources may eventually reach the level of development that can replace fossil fuel energy creation. However, if the government and the citizens do not support these technologies now, while still in their infancy and perhaps not at their greatest level of effect, there will be no funding available to bring about this higher level of development.
It is imperative for all nations of the world to reduce the effects of greenhouse gases on our atmosphere, particularly for those developed nations to concentrate on new means of acquiring the energy needed to power large urban centers even during peak hours. Although solar power isn’t completely reliable, affordable, or able to replace older forms of energy production, it is one step in the right direction for South Australia, economically, culturally, and globally.
Fyfe, Melissa. (2003). “Has the sun set on solar power?” The Age.
Gordon, Jeffrey. (2001). Solar Energy. Earthscan.
Lenkefi, Peter. (2005). “How Does Solar Power Work?” EzineArticles. Web.
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“Solar Generation Report.” (2003). Greenpeace. Web.