May 08, 2009

Here Comes the Sun and I say It's Alright

“In 1609, Galileo first pointed his homemade telescope toward the heavens. Over the next several years he would discover sunspots, the moons of Jupiter, the "seas" and craters on the Moon, and the phases of Venus” (Galileo's Discoveries - 400th anniversary). “The sun contains more than 99.8% of the total mass solar system; the top ten percent by mass” (The Sun). From the beginning of time, the sun has been a source of energy and life on earth. Solar Energy – “There are two forms of solar energy. The first is solar thermal conversion, which uses sunlight to create heat and then electrical power. The second is photovoltaic conversion, which uses sheets of special materials to create electricity from the sun. "Photo-" means "light," and "voltaic" means "producing electricity" (What Solar Energy is and How It Works). Solar energy has existed for over five billion years, since the sun was born. Yet, why are we still not using it as a main source of power?

I believe the big oil regime of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their oil buddy cartel have apparently had enough of alternative energy, especially solar energy. It cuts deeply into the big oil regime pockets. Ironically, the government quietly decided to halt applications to use federal lands as it weighs environmental consequences. “The U.S. Bureau of Land Management last month declared the moratorium on its lands throughout the West as it studies the environmental impact of the new projects. The moratorium will last at least through spring 2010” (Go Sun Solutions - Solar companies left in the dark). Solar energy could possibly save our climate and our environment. Why is there not a moratorium on drilling for oil in the U.S. since the burning of fossil fuels is threatening all life on earth? One could only imagine the response they received after the information was made public. Apparently, it was enough to get the ball rolling again. A press release on July 2, 2008 stated “In response to public interest in solar energy, the Bureau of Land Management is announcing that it plans to continue accepting applications for future potential solar development on the public lands” (Solar Energy Development PEIS Information Center). Thank God for squeaky wheels!

There are many forms of energy average American’s use in their households; gasoline, electricity and natural gas.

The total energy used by one average U.S. car per year driven 12,400 miles per year at 22.3 miles per gallon equals approximately 68.7 million British Thermal Units (Btu). Total electricity used by one average U.S. home per year for appliances, lighting, etc. is approximately 39.2 million Btu. Total primary energy used to provide the electricity used by one average U.S. home per year is approximately 134.9 million Btu (How can we compare or add up our energy consumption?).

Solar energy plays a small role in our nation’s energy supply. In 2007, the U.S. energy consumption for solar energy was 1%. However, the solar growth rate increased by over 19% in 2007 over 2006. There are two main reasons the U.S. does not use more renewable energy. “Renewable energy is expensive and capital-intensive. The plants are more expensive to build and operate than coal and natural gas plants. Renewable resources are often geographically remote. Therefore, transmission lines to deliver power are more expensive” (EIA’s Energy in Brief: How much renewable energy do we use?).

In my research for solar energy, I have come across many complaints in regard to the expense of solar panels. However, many may not be aware of the current consumer energy tax breaks. “Consumers who install solar energy systems (including solar water heating and solar electric systems), small wind systems, geothermal heat pumps, and residential fuel cell and microturbine systems can receive a 30% tax credit for systems placed in service before December 31, 2016; the previous tax credit cap no longer applies” (Department of Energy - Tax Breaks). As solar technology rapidly evolves, the cost per system is expected to rapidly become more affordable and accessible to the average homeowner. Approximate costs for solar residential systems are generally priced by the system size. The average American home spends approximately $100 per month on electricity. Through rebates and smart financing, monthly payments on a home loan could end up matching already-existing monthly payments. The interest on a solar system loan is tax deductible and nothing on a residential electric bill is. Basically, after the cost of the solar system, the power the sun provides for the rest of the life of the solar system is free to the homeowner. According to Jay M. Pasachoff, “The sun is about 4.5 billion years old and it is estimated to still possess a 5-billion year supply of hydrogen (hydrogen is the fuel that drives nuclear fusion on the sun). Therefore, it is predicted that our sun will die in approximately 5 billion years” (Space - When Will The Sun Die?: Science Fact Finder). That is a long time, not to mention, a lot of money saved.

One other argument I came across is the process of converting solar energy. In some areas of America, the large trees and weather have prohibited the use of solar energy in some homes and businesses. Where there is a will there is a way. Apparently, rural India is suffering a lot because of a lack of energy. Pranav Mehta lives in Gujarat, one of the most prosperous states in India. Near where he lives are thousands of rural villages who lack electricity or struggle with an intermittent supply at best. “By 2030, India's Planning Commission estimates that the country will have to generate at least 700,000 megawatts of additional power to meet the demands of its expanding economy and growing population” (How to harvest solar power? Beam it down from space! - Mehta’s solution is to build massive sun-gathering satellites in geosynchronous orbits 22,000 miles in the sky. “The satellites would electromagnetically beam gigawatts of solar energy back to ground-based receivers, where it would then be converted to electricity and transferred to power grids” (How to harvest solar power? Beam it down from space! - In turn, this process would provide round-the-clock clean, renewable electricity. This process was introduced in 1968 by American scientist Peter Glaser. NASA and the United States Department of Energy studied the concept but it soon fizzled. "The estimated cost of all of the infrastructure to build them in space was about $1 trillion," (John Mankins, a former NASA technologist and president of the Space Power Association). In the mid 90’s NASA revisited the study, yet again losing interest when the space agency decided it did not want to further pursue the technology. With the rising cost of gasoline, climate changes and the decrease of natural resources’, the Pentagon has wisely decided to encourage the U.S. government to spearhead the development. "The country that takes the lead on space solar power will be the energy-exporting country for the entire planet for the next few hundred years," (Charles Miller, a director of the Space Frontier Foundation). "We could see the first operational power satellite in about the 2020 time frame if we act now" (Charles Miller).

The sun is the best source of energy there is. In just one hour it can provide the earth with all the energy its inhabitants demand in a year. Not only can the sun provide us with all of our energy needs but it can also do this without any of those unpleasant side effects that we get from fossil fuels such as air pollution or ozone depletion. Best of all, this resource will never run out, at least not for another 5 billion years or so. The energy can be used to fly our planes, drive our cars and desalinate our water. “The amount of energy from the sun that falls on Earth's surface is enormous. All the energy stored in Earth's reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas is matched by the energy from just 20 days of sunshine” (How Solar Energy Works | Union of Concerned Scientists).

From the beginning of human existence many cultures established religious beliefs that involved the sun or were centered around it. The Mayans built elaborate temples to worship the sun deities. The pagans consider June 21; the summer solstice a special date. They believe it to be the most powerful energetic day of the year. Ra, in Egypt was considered the first king of Egypt. The San Tribe in Southwest Africa believes the sun used to be an old man who lived with their tribe. They believed that when he would raise his hands in the air, a light would shine from his armpits to light the ground around him. A wise old woman told the children of the tribe to sneak into his hut and lift him by his arms and legs and throw him into the sky. Each time they would approach his hut; he would awaken and drive them out by his light. Finally, after trying many times, they succeeded. They lifted him all together and hurled him into the sky. As he flew upward the tribesmen yelled, “Stand fast, you must stay in the sky and move across the sky while you are hot and light”. Our survival is dependent on the sun. Its solar rays keep us warm, healthy and alive. “Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the Sun” (Ecclesiastes 11 King James Bible). Amaterasu, Apollo, Freyr, Garuda, Helios, Huitzilopochtli, Inti, Liza, Lugh, Ra, and Sol unite!

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