Elon Musk is making all the right noises, and for the right reasons. He first went electric with his Tesla, and now is building a Solar City that will harvest solar energy. A perfect brand ambassador for the title of this article, Go electric, via Solar. However, it is a sham to think humans are difficult to convince.
Countries generate a significant chunk of their electricity from burning fossil fuels. The need is vital, given the consumption levels and lack of alternatives. But the need to burn fossil fuel was not!
Put the space available to some good use, shall we?
(This article is an extension of my post on Pollution: What the hell are we breathing?)
Why are we behind on Solar?
Profiteering Industry causes disruptions.
Think of it this way. You are hungry, but the store near you only wants to sell you oranges, as he has got a lot of it. He goes to the government, lobbies (possibly bribes) and convinces the government to provide benefits for selling oranges.
Due to this, the country does not encourage apple farmers for example, and focuses on oranges, thereby ignoring farmers ability to increment apple’s growing and production techniques. Since apple production is less in numbers, they cost significantly more and are not easily accessible. To amplify this, you are also discouraged from buying apples with a lot of negative publicity around it.
If you got the drift, well done. You can use this as a base to understand how Trump won the elections. If not, read on.
I will use the example of cars here to make it easy for you. Companies and people who had invested heavily in fossil fuel and related businesses (car and oil producing companies primarily) pushed the government to ignore the idea of electric vehicles, so people continue to use petrol (gasoline). It would help them not make a new investment in technology for alternative fuel or electricity-powered cars, thus also ensuring their current business remain successful.
Every major industry follows this approach to remain in business by not innovating. As usual, the herd mentality. In fact, those who challenged this de facto malpractice, are silenced in a way or another.
These manufactures for the sake of their profit and existence put the future of earth at risk. Today we are all used to a way of life, designed by the very people who were only profiteering.
But keeping a sound idea suppressed for long is difficult. And likes of Elon Musk rise to the occasion. In this specific example, car manufacturers themselves sensed their future at risk and started investing in either the alternative fuel or electric cars. A small victory right there, but the cost is still prohibitive.
Electricity costs a lot of carbons
The cost I am talking about is not only financial but to the environment all the same. Government or private girds produce electricity from many forms. The hydro-dam, the solar, windmill, and nuclear reactor based electricity generation do not cause environmental pollution. They only have a small share in the entire production span across many countries.
Hence it does not make any sense to use an electrically powered car when burning fossil fuels generate the electricity. We need to go Solar.
I do not think anyone asked this question – except to douse their curiosity. Of course, you need ample amount of sunlight. Of course, you need a lot of space to plan these giant solar panels. But this is the cleanest form of energy.
Here is an excellent example of how a place consuming more than 18,000 Units a day saved all of them, thanks to Solar. Cochin Airport is world’s first and only fully solar powered airport.
Solar energy is still costly for an average homemaker to buy, however larger institutions can afford it. Cochin Airport is a perfect example of this greater good.
Sixth element: Electricity
Going forward, the world’s reliance on electricity will only increment and hence, it will remain one of the most sought after ‘element’. The reason I call it so is because, we already have polluted our earth, water, and air – the three most fundamental needs for human life to exist on earth.
I will write more about electricity as sixth element in a more detailed article.
Innovation in Solar Energy Harvesting
Innovation in solar has got a boost in the last decade. However, we have only seen a dramatic increase in installations in the previous two years. Climate change or not, the weather conditions have made a lot of organizations and governments take the right step into the future. I want to talk about a few of the innovations that will help the planet earth greatly.
Thin Film Solar
Most of us remember Solar panels as gigantic, like in the featured picture on this article. However, the innovations in this field have to lead us to thinner films that help make manufacturing and installing a solar panel cheaper, more accessible and practical. Thinner solar films can be pasted onto the roof and walls (not as much efficient) to generate electricity. Absorbing the sunlight means, less heat gets passed on to the roof at the same time, thus making the roofs cooler (and saving cooling costs). To be commercially launched, but future is already looking bright.
Another innovation that has great potential is Solar Windows. A company by the same name has successfully created prototypes of glass that has the potential to converting sun’s energy into electricity. Solar Windows can change how the city sky scrappers draw current from the grid, powering themselves with Solar Windows placed on their building exteriors.
Nanowires based panel
Also called the Hairy Solar Panel, these use carbon-nanotube fabric laced with light-absorbing nanowires, which can absorb more energy from the sun. They are better than the silicon-based panels and can be more efficient in solar harvesting.
How many of you know about the efficiency of gasoline combustion? They burn at average 28% to a max of 55% efficiency in rare cases, wasting the remaining fuel in heat. Likewise, Photovoltaic cells have their limits on how much electricity they produce as well, vis-a-vis the total solar power available.
Other Innovations in Solar energy
Apart from improving the panel technology, other areas saw a lot of action as well. These include solar plant set up, distribution and innovative ideas on how to spread the usage of solar. Having your solor plant will help you make money in future, so what are you waiting for?
Solar panels produce power in Direct Current or DC (invented by Thomas Edison) for effortless storage. Our homes are wired to work on Alternative Current or AC (invented by Nikola Tesla). The old set up of inverters used to be inefficient and cost intensive. However, the advent of microinverters has helped make setting up a solar power plant affordable and efficient.
The current average is 23% globally. However, efforts are on by many companies achieve much more than that.
Batteries play a crucial role in solar-power generation. If the solar panels connect to the grid, you do not need to store the electricity. In all other cases, there is a need to save excess power that produced, so that it is available for use during night time or when limited sunlight is available.
Batteries did not improve at the same pace as other technologies, as efforts were made to get better at converting the heat/light into energy. That is changing, and pretty fast as now, we race to store ever more power in the smallest possible package. Tesla leads in that today, offering better battery packs at less than half the cost.
We all have used data from our phones, connecting it via WiFi to our laptops where there is no LAN or local WiFi connectivity available. Solar tethering works somewhat in a similar fashion.
Solar plants require an expense commitment before you can start getting returns on your investment. At times, these can be expensive for average homeowners. Hence, to those who have managed to generate more than what he can consume, the private or public city grid can buy the excess power.
In turn, the excess energy can be purchased over by a buyer who wants to use solar but does not have money to invest in a plant. He can pay for the solar unit based on fixed price, thus making income for the harvester.
Portable Solar Lights and Fan
A large part of the world still has little to no access to electricity. Mini Solar plants, attached to portable lights and fans help get then access to basics during night time. These compact lamps also help charge mobile phones, run other local business tasks, etc.
There are many such projects in Africa and Asia, which have met with tremendous success. Such small solar power plants help make life easier for the populace in remote regions.
Water desalination and purification
Another exciting innovation is in the area of desalination of water. A team of scientists from MIT and Jain Irrigation Systems have come up with a method to desalinate seawater, disinfecting with UV and make it available for people who lack access to drinkable water.
As again with the previous point, electricity and water are scarce resources for many living in remote areas. Drinking clean water helps reduce water-borne diseases, but most of the villagers do not have access to them.
Harvesting Sun may still be expensive to install, and return on investment is not quick enough, but the advancing technology is making it easier and much cheaper. We can fix Solar panels in all those areas that receive maximum sunshine throughout the year for best effect. However all those areas where we do not have enough sunshine, we will need to export electricity from where we can generate.
There are various teams of experts; some are making floating solar panels in the sea, some others are testing balloons in the air, while another group is trying to capture the non-visible light spectrum (like infra-red). Sure, there is future in it.
I hope that we limit carbon production, lest we may face a carbon-cloud future, where solar may not help.