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Harnessing Solar Energy Power

It’s time to take renewable energy seriously. By harnessing solar energy power's current technologies and tapping the world’s virtually inexhaustible supply of solar energy, we can begin to build a brighter future.

| December 2007/January 2008

  • Harnessing solar energy power. Solar is a promising source of future energy supplies because not only is it clean, it’s remarkably abundant.
    Harnessing solar energy power. Solar is a promising source of future energy supplies because not only is it clean, it’s remarkably abundant.
    Photo by Istockphoto
  • Biofuels get a lot of good press, but supplies of fuel crops will never be as large as our solar energy resources.
    Biofuels get a lot of good press, but supplies of fuel crops will never be as large as our solar energy resources. 
    Photo by Istockphoto
  • Most of the electricity in the United States comes from coal, but burning coal produces a lot of pollution, including carbon dioxide, mercury and sulfur emissions.
    Most of the electricity in the United States comes from coal, but burning coal produces a lot of pollution, including carbon dioxide, mercury and sulfur emissions. 
    Photo by Istockphoto/Anna Pustovaya
  • In the United States, most oil is used for transportation. Dwindling world oil supplies already have many people worried about future prices.
    In the United States, most oil is used for transportation. Dwindling world oil supplies already have many people worried about future prices.
    Photo by Istockphoto/George Clerk
  • Wind power is a clean-burning source of electricity, and has the potential to meet many of our future energy needs.
    Wind power is a clean-burning source of electricity, and has the potential to meet many of our future energy needs.
    Photo by Istockphoto/Mariann Kis
  • The popularity of hybrid electric cars is an encouraging sign that there are practical, appealing solutions to the problem of how to use less energy.
    The popularity of hybrid electric cars is an encouraging sign that there are practical, appealing solutions to the problem of how to use less energy.
    Photo by Istockphoto/Ian Francis
  • At current rates of consumption, world oil supplies are only projected to last for another 40 years.
    At current rates of consumption, world oil supplies are only projected to last for another 40 years. 
    Photo by Istockphoto/Alexy Gostev
  • World supplies of solar energy are virtually inexhaustible, and can be tapped using current technology. Will solar power lead us to a brighter future?
    World supplies of solar energy are virtually inexhaustible, and can be tapped using current technology. Will solar power lead us to a brighter future?
    Photo by Istockphoto
  • Left: Annual global renewable energy resources, 725 million terrawatt hours. Right: Total global non-renewable energy resources, 10.8 million terrawatt hours. See the Image Gallery, click on the image for a larger sized version with specific energy resource numbers.
    Left: Annual global renewable energy resources, 725 million terrawatt hours. Right: Total global non-renewable energy resources, 10.8 million terrawatt hours. See the Image Gallery, click on the image for a larger sized version with specific energy resource numbers.
    Diagram by Matthew T. Stallbaumer
  • With building-integrated photovoltaics, homes and offices can actually produce more energy than they consume.
    With building-integrated photovoltaics, homes and offices can actually produce more energy than they consume.
    Photo by DC Power Systems

  • Harnessing solar energy power. Solar is a promising source of future energy supplies because not only is it clean, it’s remarkably abundant.
  • Biofuels get a lot of good press, but supplies of fuel crops will never be as large as our solar energy resources.
  • Most of the electricity in the United States comes from coal, but burning coal produces a lot of pollution, including carbon dioxide, mercury and sulfur emissions.
  • In the United States, most oil is used for transportation. Dwindling world oil supplies already have many people worried about future prices.
  • Wind power is a clean-burning source of electricity, and has the potential to meet many of our future energy needs.
  • The popularity of hybrid electric cars is an encouraging sign that there are practical, appealing solutions to the problem of how to use less energy.
  • At current rates of consumption, world oil supplies are only projected to last for another 40 years.
  • World supplies of solar energy are virtually inexhaustible, and can be tapped using current technology. Will solar power lead us to a brighter future?
  • Left: Annual global renewable energy resources, 725 million terrawatt hours. Right: Total global non-renewable energy resources, 10.8 million terrawatt hours. See the Image Gallery, click on the image for a larger sized version with specific energy resource numbers.
  • With building-integrated photovoltaics, homes and offices can actually produce more energy than they consume.

It’s time for harnessing solar energy power from the world’s virtually inexhaustible supply and start building a brighter future. If we act now, we can use renewable energy resources to replace our fossil fuel based economy and cure our addiction to oil, stabilize the climate and maintain our standard of living, all at the same time.

Harnessing Solar Energy Power

We know that relying on coal, oil and natural gas threatens our future with toxic pollution, global climate change and social unrest caused by diminishing fuel supplies. Instead of relying on unsustainable fossil fuels, we must transform our economy and learn to thrive on the planet’s abundant supply of renewable energy.

I have been studying our energy options for more than 30 years, and I am absolutely convinced that our best and easiest option is solar energy, which is virtually inexhaustable. Most importantly, if we choose solar we don’t have to wait for a new technology to save us. We already have the technology and energy resources we need to build a sustainable, solar-electric economy that can cure our addiction to oil, stabilize the climate and maintain our standard of living, all at the same time. It is well past time to start seriously harnessing solar energy.

Fossil-fueled Problems

Before you read on, take a moment to study the two corresponding pie charts, which compare the Earth’s estimated total reserves of non-renewable energy resources with the annual renewable energy options. You’ll see that the potential of solar energy dwarfs all other options, renewable or otherwise. To understand why a solar-electric economy is our best option, let’s look at the energy resources we currently depend on and compare them with the solar energy available to us.



Coal is burned mainly to produce electricity, and coal-fired power plants produce more than half the electricity used in the United States. But burning coal has serious drawbacks. One is that it releases carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming. It also releases heavy metals, such as mercury and sulfur. These toxins that were locked in the Earth’s crust over billions of years are suddenly spewed into the atmosphere and thus degrade our air, water and soil. The exhaust from burning coal contains more pollutants and global warming emissions per unit of energy produced than any other fossil fuel. In addition, the methods used to mine coal are destructive to the land and dangerous for the miners.

perspective. It took billions of years of solar energy to form the coal we have today. And while coal is the most abundant fossil resource, the total amount of energy produced by burning all the coal on the planet would only be equivalent to the solar energy that strikes the Earth every six days.

Natural gas supplies more than half the fuel used to heat buildings and about 15 percent of the electricity in the United States. Natural-gas-fired power plants only emit about half the pollutants produced by coal plants, as long as the fuel is extracted close to where it is burned. However, U.S. natural gas extraction can no longer keep up with demand, so expensive and hazardous methods to liquefy and ship foreign natural gas are being devised. In the future, natural gas for the United States would have to be imported from countries such as Russia, Kazakhstan, Qatar and Iran, which together have 60 percent of the world’s reserves. When all the externalities, such as the cost and pollution caused by liquefying and transporting this fuel, are included, liquefied natural gas (LNG) is much more expensive than coal, and almost as dirty.

P.Ritupurna
12/3/2017 7:03:10 AM

i liked your idea. This helped me a lot to do my daughter's project.


Mike_75
9/8/2009 9:19:52 AM

Hi,First I will say I built my owned rammed-earth home in 1984. 12" walls, second if we follow the German-model for solar as shown on PBS per Nova this past year you could get a loan from the bank at a set interest rate locked in for 20 years and farm solar, which one farmer turned his fallow field into a $60K profit selling solar to the power plants. People are putting panels on their neighbors homes to get a return! And free electric. I haven't read all the comments, yet. I would like to meet like minded people though. Is there a forum for that? I am new, or a return customer from the early days! It is interesting that in 1980 Gulf Oil ran an ad in Newsweek promoting solar. What happened? To them?


Jeff@Restoule
11/17/2008 3:05:00 PM

As well as considering how we use our available energy, shouldn't we also consider "when" we use this energy. Look at any city with its signs, street lights and office towers using power 24 hours per day. Perhaps it is time for a major paradigm shift; work during the day when the solar power is available and sleep when the sun goes down.







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