The Cultural and Economic effect of Solar Panel Technology on our Society.
Solar energy and its use isn’t new to the world. It has been used by various societies beginning from 7thCentury B.C, when the sun’s heat was concentrated by glass and mirrors to light fires. Today, we have everything from solar-powered buildings to solar-powered vehicles. By and large solar technology has some environmental, economic, psychological and ethical implications for our society. Actions taken by companies and individuals to increase the use of solar technology will create good local jobs, improve our environment and reduce our dependence on foreign oil while doing what’s ethical and moral for our society. What is solar Photovoltaic (PV)? A solar cell is a photovoltaic cell, which comes from photo (light) and voltaic (electricity). It is made of a material called a semiconductor, one commonly used is silicon. The basic structure of a PV cell is demonstrated in Figure 1. This semiconductor absorbs the light when struck, and bump electrons loose, making them flow freely. The PV cells have a current that makes the electrons flow into metal contacts (Aldous, 2009).
Figure 1: retrieved from < http://www.sfsm.org/images/solar_sponsors/anatomy_of_cell.jpg > The panels take in energy from the sun and convert it to electricity. Sunlight was used in various ways, but the first connection to harnessing the power for electricity and solar panels was in 1839. Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel studied solar energy and discovered the photovoltaic effect along with the basis of a solar cell (Nationmaster, 2005). This would eventually turn into further invention with electricity run by solar energy. The first solar panels that were created and used were for space satellites. “Vanguard I” was the first PV (photovoltaic) powered satellite launched in 1958 and lasted for 8 years (Bellis, 2009). After that, many people began using the panels for pool heating and as a replacement for electricity. Even though the use of solar energy is not a new idea, the photovoltaic technology was developed over the last 40 years and it is just now beginning to proliferate and penetrate society at a greater level. We are moving into an era where the world is awakening to the potential catastrophes that global warming may have on the world and thus we are looking for ways to decrease our consumption of fossil fuels. This development is playing a key role in the improvement of our society and country by improving the quality of our environment and consequently, quality of life, with less health problems and wars for oil dominance. To be able to accomplish this, the penetration of solar technology currently depends on the politics of our country. Since this is a new and nascent industry, the adoption of solar technology largely depends on tax breaks and incentives. Unfortunately, even though the answer may often be simple and a decision has to be made for the benefit of the sustainability of our nation, often the right decisions are lost and debated for decades. For example, currently one of the debated issues as it relates to solar technologies is the proliferation and construction of solar farms. Similar to wind energy, large fields of land are now used to build panels that absorb solar energy and store them in a single power plant, which can disperse it to thousands of homes, depending on the size of the farm. This construction is known as a solar farm. Spain currently has the world’s largest solar farm that produces 23 megawatts of power; this is equivalent of powering 20,000 homes while helping the environment by reducing CO2 emissions by 42,000 tons a year. Unfortunately, the farm is built on arable land and thus has destroyed 100 hectares, or 247 acres of land that was a flourishing forest (Technology for Life, 2009). In small quantities it may be, but when built across large landscapes, there are many underlying...
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