Humanity has always needed energy for work, and for much of history, this energy for labor came from people and animals, such as horse-drawn carriages or oxen dragging along field plows. By the Industrial Revolution, mechanized labor became a reality on a massive scale, and steam powered engines drove factory equipment and vehicles such as ocean liners and trains. In the late 1800s, electricity was harnessed into a powerful energy source, from light bulbs to telephones, paving the way for many new inventions. In the 1900s, nuclear power appeared as well, alongside even newer, and cleaner, power sources such as solar panels and wind turbines. Now, in the 21st century, there is a great global interest in replacing pollution-heavy fossil fuels with cleaner ones such as wind farms, geothermal power, and solar systems (with many panels in some cases) to help curb climate change and improve air quality. But the benefits of solar systems go beyond even that. What can these solar systems and solar panel companies offer alongside cleaner air?
The Power of Solar
All energy must come from somewhere, and fossil fuels are mined from the earth. Coal is found in seams, oil is found in patches, and natural gas is fracked from the ocean floor. Solar panel comes from the sun, and unlike coal seams or natural gas pockets, the sun cannot be mined dry. The sun exists on an astronomical scale, generating many times more energy every day than is used by all of human civilization. Even the tiny slice of sunlight that strikes the Earth itself is enormous, waiting to be used. What is more, the sun is expected to shine for another five billion years. For all intents and purposes, solar energy is infinite and can handle any energy demand human civilization could possibly have. The global demand for energy is huge and constantly growing, and many agree that the sun is the best candidate for meeting that need.
Solar energy is harvested when it strikes solar panels, exciting electrons inside them and turning that power into electricity. The solar panels may then feed that power either into a building, a battery, or an entire neighborhood or city block, depending on the solar systems’s scale of construction. For this reason, solar systems tend to be built in areas that get a lot of consistent and strong sunlight. In the United States, the states of Texas and California are robust users of solar panels, since these states have huge expanses of wilderness that get strong sunlight and little cloud cover.
Solar panels can be built on any scale desired by their purchasers. On the smallest scale, a house or small commercial building will have a few such panels installed on the roof, and that building will be disconnected from the public power grid and instead use that solar power privately. This allows the solar panels to pay for themselves over time. And that’s not all. In other cases, solar panels can be, and often are, built into larger arrays to collect sunlight on an industrial scale. An array may have hundreds or even thousands of these panels all working in tandem, gathering sunlight nonstop. Such arrays may be found just outside a town or city in a fenced-off area, or they may be found deeper in the wilderness where they won’t get in anyone’s way. Semi-arid regions or deserts are ideal for this, getting a lot of sun with little cloud cover. Such arrays are known to power entire neighborhoods or city blocks at a time, and this generous energy supply allows the local community to shut down its fossil fuel-burning power plant.
Solar systems replace fossil fuel-burning power plants for energy production, making them a fine example of clean energy. After all, solar panels produce no emissions or byproducts of any kind, even after years of work. Many European nations have made national pledges to get most or even all of their power from solar panels and wind farms, and shut down their fossil fuel plants. The United States has not yet made a federal pledge like that, but many states and cities are taking their own initiatives to set up solar panels. Piecemeal, the United States is phasing in solar power en masse.