Humans have been trying to harness the sun’s awesome power for years. While solar-powered calculators, lights, water pumps, and countless other products have become available en masse, no one has come up with a way to make solar power an affordable and doable alternative source of energy in a large scale. Why? There are several practical and economic hurdles that must first be overcome.
So, what are these problems that must be solved in order to better utilize the sun’s power?
Poles and Wires
The entire power infrastructure revolves around current sources of power. The entire nation is dotted with a complex network of poles, wires, and underground cables–but no way of storing energy when it’s not in use. Not only would we have to come up with an affordable way to make our current power network compatible with solar energy, but we would have to find a way to store the sun’s energy for use during night-time and overcast days.
Where on earth can one find seemingly endless hours of cloudless skies and bright sunshine? The desert, of course. In an effort to take advantage of these giant suntraps, several massive solar farms have been constructed in the Middle East, Africa, and the American Southwest. While this appears promising for the future of solar power, there are many problems with desert solar farms.
- Location For the most part, these are located on cheap sections of land far away from large pockets of human settlement–the exact places where the power is most needed. Bringing this power to these populations is costly.
- Water Ironically, one of the key ingredients to collecting solar power on a large scale is scarce in the desert. According to Scientific American, water is required for cooling and for cleaning the desert dust off the solar panels and mirrors on a daily basis. Just one gram of dust per square meter of solar panel can reduce efficiency by roughly 40 percent.
Inefficient Solar Cells
Current solar cell technology is not nearly where it needs to be in order to maximize solar energy’s potential. In fact, as ‘Problems with Solar Energy’ declares, the efficiency of solar cells is only around 22 percent with most of the sunlight being wasted as heat. While more efficient cells are in the experimental phase, it is expected that they will be expensive to build. Much more work is needed, however, as these experimental cells are still less than 50 percent efficient.
In the creation of solar cells, perovskite is used to bond the required minerals to the film–and this process requires tremendous heat. As ‘New Technology Could Make Affordable Solar Panels a Reality’ states, this excessive heat often causes numerous pinholes throughout the film. While a process involving solvents that doesn’t require heat looks promising, it is still in the experimental stages.
Despite the sun’s phenomenal potential to solve the world’s energy troubles, there are a myriad of challenges that must be overcome. Thankfully, however, science is making new discoveries every day and solar energy has come a long way since its inception. Perhaps, one day humanity will truly harness the sun’s power.
Do you think you will see solar power become more prominent in your lifetime? Why or why not?