Apr 022002
 
Authors: Bobbie Pawelski

Ever wonder where the energy comes from when you flip on the light switch? What about all the electricity needed for the endless hours spent surfing the Net?

For years, scientists warn that the amount of energy we use is having adverse effects on the environment. What’s the solution?

The answer may be shining us right in the face. If extracting power from the sun seems like a far-fetched idea for the future, it may be surprising to discover that the industry for solar power is growing.

From drying our clothes to warming the planet, the sun has been a valuable tool in our everyday lives. As technology improves and popularity increases, solar power enables people to choose a more environmentally friendly alternative.

How does solar power actually work? Panels have been created that hold photovoltaic cells and they are placed into direct sunlight. Photovoltaic cells contain two layers of silicon and chemicals that react to the sun and create an electrical current.

Solar power was first used in the 1950s to power orbiting satellites. In 1977, the first completely solar-powered car was built. Recently, though, solar power through PV systems has become available to homeowners.

Most homeowners already possess normal utility lines and choose solar power to fill only a portion of their electric needs. If this is the case, a line-tied PV system is installed to cut the electric costs and to store energy for emergencies.

Unlike present methods to generate electricity, solar power has no negative effects on the environment. It allows individuals to live anywhere and not be restricted from rural areas. Solar power can also be used during power outages.

If solar power seems to have so many advantages, why isn’t solar power being used more frequently? One reason is the fact that it doesn’t work at night. Another reason is that the PV system or photovoltaic panels are not cost effective. To install a system, it costs somewhere between $5,000 to $30,000, depending on the type of equipment needed. However, once a PV system is in use, the sunlight is free.

In an article from “Home Power Magazine,” author Randy Udall from Community Office for Resource Efficiency in Aspen, wrote, “For 80 years, our culture has had cheap power on a pedestal. In most contexts, cheap means “shoddy” or “second-rate.” The cheap power paradigm is bankrupt. It’s a fraud. Pathetic. Close to criminal. If you value the future or the environment, PV is cost-effective. If you don’t, it isn’t. It’s that simple.”

In 1997, President Clinton passed the Million Solar Roofs Initiative, which is a plan to have one million U.S. buildings to have solar roofs by 2010.

Solar Energy International in Carbondale is focused on offering practical training in renewable energy resources. Since 1991, SEI has taught comprehensive courses from installation of PV systems to solar cooking.

“This is indeed a very exciting time for energy and renewable resources,” said SEI co-founder Johnny Weiss. “There is an opportunity to make a difference. We have the technology to do so, and it is time for people interested to get involved.”

At the moment, SEI is planning to build a Solar Energy International EcoCampus to allow students to put their education to the test.

In Golden, the Altair Energy Company is a head competitor in the solar power industry. Although the business opened in 1998, Altair Energy has made contracts to install PV systems in school districts, housing projects with McStain Enterprises in Boulder, who offers solar power as a standard option, and a Solarsource program focused on bringing homeowners a chance to employ solar power toward their utility bill.

Solar power has been in use for quite a while, and many individuals are taking advantage of the cleaner alternative for their homes.

With even more research and refinement of the technology, we may be seeing solar power as our chief method of electricity in the not-too-distant future. Y

 Posted by at 6:00 pm

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