Solar Energy and the Energy Crisis
The energy crisis is a major problem in the United States. Solar energy can help alleviate
this problem. Enough solar panels to fulfill the energy needs of the entire United States
would take up 27,347 km2 and cost almost 17 trillion dollars. Therefore, although there is
enough space for all those solar panels, the economic cost is far too great. However,
solar power can be phased in gradually.
Solar Energy 3
Solar Energy: Can It Solve the Energy Crisis?
The world's supply of fossil fuels is dwindling. The amount of power generated from
renewable energy sources needs to be increased, as there is little chance of power consumption
decreasing. Solar power is a relatively untapped power source which could contribute to solving the
energy crisis. Solar power plants can operate as long as the sun continues to give off light and heat,
and it will continue to do so for billions of years. However, solar power plants cannot be the only
power source, for they do not operate at peak efficiency at night or when the sun is obscured by dense
Solar power accounted for only 0.064%
of US energy consumption in 2003, while
fossil fuels accounted for 85.973%. Also, solar
power production in the United States has been
decreasing since 1996 (see Figure 1) (Annual
Energy Review, 2003).
The most common way to convert solar radiation into electricity is the use of photovoltaic cells,
also called solar cells. These cells are grouped together in solar panels. Solar cells are made of thin
wafers of silicon (Si) with a few other elements added. The efficiency of these cells is around 12%, so
that a panel with an area of one square meter placed in direct sunlight will generate a peak power of
120 watts (solar radiation has a density of 1000 watts per square meter at the Earth's surface) (Solar
Another way of generating electricity from solar radiation is through the use of solar thermal
energy. Power plants that generate electricity in this way use mirrors to focus the sun's energy. The
focused energy is used to boil water and create steam to drive a turbine (Solar Energy).
However, if solar power usage were to become more widespread, then the energy shortage the
Figure 1 ( data from Annual Energy Review, 2003)
United States is experiencing would be lessened. Combined with energy conservation and increased
use of other...