Harvesting solar energy for a “bright” future

With the conventional energy sources depleting every day, it is now time to look for new sources to provide clean energy to the world. Renewable and available instantly, solar energy can handle the entire world’s energy needs in an instant. Solar power has been a healthy alternative to other energy sources like fossil fuels. However, statistics show that we are yet to harvest solar energy to its potential. As of the year 2018, the entire world usage of solar energy was less than 2%.

There are various reasons attributing to this meager usage of solar energy like the inefficiency in harvesting, lack of technology, lack of knowledge, and the cost involved. However, thanks to the advent of technology in recent years, solar power is now available at a reasonable cost and can be harvested with ease too.

Why use solar energy?

Studies show that every second of the sun’s energy can satisfy two hours of the power needs for the entire world. While there was initial hesitation owing to the cost of the solar cells, the same has been on the decline in recent years. Moreover, solar energy comes with quite a few benefits, unlike the other energy sources.

  • Solar is a renewable energy source that doesn’t have an end in any future.
  • It will continue to replenish everyday, unlike fossil fuels, which can run out any time.
  • Solar panels do not cause pollution or harm the environment like other sources.
  • You can generate your required power in the cleanest manner.
  • There is no need for fuel to harvest solar energy

Being a scalable, less expensive, and renewable clean source of energy, it is not surprising that harvesting solar energy is the answer to all our present and future fuel worries.

Harnessing and harvesting solar energy

Currently, there are three main methods employed to harvest solar energy

  1. PV solar panels:

An electronic process that transforms the sunlight directly into electricity is available in certain materials called semiconductors. The PV solar panels or the Photovoltaic solar panels use the power of the sun to create electricity. The PV solar panels generally comprise of solar cells that are placed in an intricate design to transform the sunlight into electricity. The electricity thus produced is then transmitted through a circuit powering up various electrical devices ranging from residential to commercial purposes.

  1. Thermal energy absorption

This is where mirrors are used to harvest solar energy as thermal energy. With the sunlight streaming continuously on the mirrors, the thermal energy is transferred to steam engines or turbines, which generate electricity. The thermal energy stored in such plants are then used as and when needed, day or night or in any month.

  1. Harvesting by electromagnetic radiation

As we all know, the sun’s rays have a wide spectrum of varying wavelengths like infrared. The infrared spectrum can transfer thermal energy to black bodies, used in many thermosiphons and thermal solar panels. This technology has been in existence in ancient times, as well as evident from the bathhouses of Rome and the ancient homes of Egypt. This energy thus harvested is used more for residential purposes rather than industrial uses.

Apart from the options mentioned above, there are also solar heating and cooling systems that also make use of thermal energy for heating water, cooling, and other purposes. This is a much affordable system for individual usage.

Solar energy harvesting from space

While solar energy is renewable and limitless, there are certain limitations like that on rainy or cloudy weather. Even during the nights, there is no possibility of harvesting. But that need not be a worry anymore with scientists coming up with a plausible solution. Harvesting solar energy from space is the answer as there will never be any issues with night or weather conditions.

In a typical set up there would be a solar-based power station to be built in the space, with a receiver on Earth. The solar panels on this space power station will generate the electricity from the sun’s energy and transmit the same to the receiver as microwaves or laser beams. If this works out, it can even eliminate the requirement of land for installing solar panels. The study has been ongoing since the 1970s, and steps are underway to realize this as well.

With the threat of fossil fuels running out and with no stopping of the demand for electricity and power, solar energy is the ultimate solution. There will continue to be more research into the field and more optimization of harvesting solar energy to the benefit of the people. With increased productivity in harvesting solar energy, there will be no need to use fossil fuels soon in the future.