Why is Solar Energy Important?
No one today asks why is solar energy important because the need for alternative sources of energy is clear. Solar energy is radiant light and heat from the sun that supports life on this planet. The amount of energy released by the sun is immense and we are using only a fraction of this energy.
Why is solar energy more important today than ever before? At some point, the population of the planet will use up all the coal and oil that lay beneath the surface of the earth. More importantly, using the coal and oil and the by-products of those natural materials creates by-products that pollute our environment.
From oil spills in the ocean to the scarred earth of strip mining, for generations we have damaged our global environment in our constant quest for more electrical power.
Before asking why is solar energy important to us consider how much you rely on the light and heat of the sun in your own life every day. You can stand out of doors and feel the energy of the sun heating your skin. Stay out in the sunshine for long and your skin will either burn or begin to tan as a reaction to the sun's energy rays.
How do We Use Solar Energy
Solar energy may be passive solar or active solar depending on how the sun's rays are captured, converted and distributed as power. Photovoltaic panels and thermal collectors use active solar techniques. Passive solar relies on designing buildings to use the rays of the sun when they reach the earth.
This may involve how a building is oriented on the land and which direction windows are facing. Passive solar also relies on materials used in construction and on spatial designs that allow the sun's rays to heat a specific area and create air flow solely due to temperature.
Urban planning and home design today often rely on solar energy. Homes are placed on lots with south facing windows while northern exposures are less open. One traditional use of solar energy is the simple glass greenhouse.
The glass walls and ceiling allow the sun's energy to pass through and create an indoor space in the greenhouse that is quite a bit warmer than the outdoor air. The main purpose of a greenhouse, however, is to allow the energy of the sun to reach growing plants as they need that solar energy to flourish.
Solar technologies are often referred to as thermal technology. These are used increasingly in homes and businesses today to heat spaces, provide ventilation and to create hot water.
Anyone who has a swimming pool or has filled a child's wading pool with fresh water knows the value of solar energy. The water flowing from underground pipes or aquifers is too cold for the human body to be immersed in for long. We fill the pool and then wait for the sun to warm the water to a level that is comfortable to swim or play in.
Sunlight is used for solar systems to provide hot water in environmental friendly homes. The common solar water heaters are either evacuated tube collectors or glazed flat plate collectors. Unglazed plastic collectors are used for heating many new swimming pools. The use of solar water heaters is increasing rapidly. If you plan on installing it in your home a hot water service professional can help you with your required needs."
For many locales, solar water heating systems can provide the majority of hot water a family needs. Backup water heaters powered by gas or electricity are also present but used only when cloud cover or high usage limited the solar produced hot water.
Ventilation and Cooling with Solar Energy
It is estimated that 50% of the energy use in homes is due to heating and cooling of the home's interior spaces. This is perhaps the main reason why solar energy is important today for builders, homeowners and environmentalists.
The thermal mass of various products can store the sun's energy and release it slowly to the air. Cement, stone and water have the ability to absorb heat from the sun during the day and keep a room warm at night as the heat is slowly released into the air.
Environmentally friendly home designs have created a new type of architecture where the goal of materials used is to capture as much of the sun's energy as possible. This reduces the amount of electricity or gas necessary to maintain comfort in the home.
One innovative concept is a solar or thermal chimney. This is a narrow, vertical shaft connecting the inside of a building with the outside. The sun warms the chimney and the heated air rises naturally creating an updraft of hot air that is released to the outdoors.
As this solar heated air rushes up the chimney it draws cooler air into the bottom of the structure and creates air flow. Cool air is pulled into the chimney, heated by the sun's rays and naturally rises to the top. In a way, this is a modern adaptation of the greenhouse method.
Natural plants are also part of an architectural design for solar energy use. Trees are planted on the southern side of a home to filter the sun's rays. Depending on climate, deciduous trees are often utilized for a Western exposure to reduce the sun's heat during afternoon hours.
Why is Solar Energy Important for Water Treatment?
Perhaps one of the most useful ways to harness solar energy is in processing water. Large areas of the world suffer from annual drought conditions. Drinking brackish or polluted water spreads bacteria and disease that can decimate a small village in a developing nation. Water placed in special plastic bottles and exposed to the sun for 1-2 days the water is disinfected by the sun's heat.
When water is scarce, people tend to drink whatever water they can find. Filling two liter PET bottles with water from a stream and laying those bottles on their side to provide maximum exposure to the sun can provide safe drinking water.
We are accustomed to water from a tap and seldom think of the processes and chemicals used to provide that clean, safe water. That luxury is not available in some areas but with the help of the sun's rays, water can be made safe to drink.
Why is solar energy important? Perhaps because of the potential that is only now being realized. The sun's energy is immense and shared with the earth. Harnessing that energy can help protect the delicate balance of our environment. Solar energy is important not just for what it can be harnessed to do for us but in what it does not do as well.
The biggest drawback of using energy produced by processing coal, oil and natural gas is the dangers posed to our natural environment. These energy processes have dangerous side effects as the production and use of this electricity creates pollutants.
It's seldom anyone today asks "why is solar energy important?" Instead we ask how we can better utilize solar energy for our daily needs to reduce pollution of our planet.