MAKING SOLAR ENERGY MORE ECONOMICAL
Engineering Grand Challenge
The purpose of this position paper is to present solutions to the following engineering grand challenge – making solar energy more economical. It outlines the problems, our proposed solutions, and the feasibility of these recommendations. 1.1
One of the greatest motivators is the pressing issue regarding our current over reliance on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are limited and are non-renewable. According to credible projections, we will deplete petroleum in a 100 years, natural gas in 170 years and coal in 230 years. (Karin Zeitvogel, 2010) It would be ideal if we eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels before they are completely exhausted. If we do not start finding alternative energy sources now, we may run into the risk of being forced to use coal in the near future, which causes heavy pollution or, in the worst case scenario, run into an energy crisis when an absolute end of fossil fuel is reached. 1.2
Our focus is on solar energy and proposing ways to make it more economical so that it will be widely adopted. The fact that the sun baths the Earth with more energy every hour than the world consumes in a year makes it a very promising resource to tap on.
Solar power is an attractive alternative to fossil fuels due to its huge availability and sustainability, but it is not without problems. Presently, solar energy is mainly captured by solar panels and then converted into electricity. However, the efficiency of today’s solar panels is only about 10 to 20 percent. Furthermore, given the high manufacturing costs of solar cells, the final electricity produced would has a cost 3 to 6 times as much as the current prices. (National academy of engineering, n.d.) Solar panels are not widely used today due to the high cost of installation and low efficiency which lead to more expensive energy generation per Watt.
There are many alternative source of energy. Some examples are wind energy, hydro-power, bio-energy and nuclear energy. However, they have their own drawbacks when compared with solar energy. Firstly, the generation of solar energy has no geographic limitation as compared to wind energy and hydro-power. Theoretically, solar panels can be placed anywhere as long as there is enough sunlight, while the generation of wind energy and hydro-power has strict requirement of where to set up the facilities; these facilities also have a relatively high cost of maintenance, resulting in a higher price of energy. Compared with bio-energy, solar energy is more technologically matured and has no effect on food production. Current technology requires us to cultivate energy crops in order produce bio-energy. (Sam Baldwin, 2011) Recent statistics show that 15% of the world population are still suffering from hunger. Hence, it is not wise to use our limited food supply to support our energy demand. Lastly, the generation of solar energy is safer than harnessing nuclear power. The generation process of nuclear energy requires a very high level of expertise and it is difficult to control. Careless mistakes may result in a huge catastrophe like what has happened in Fukushima accident. Moreover, the chemical materials used in nuclear power station are highly reactive to both individuals and the environment. Currently, there is no completely safe way to dispose off nuclear waste. Taking these factors into consideration, we have chosen to focus on solar energy.
In order to encourage power companies to adopt harnessing solar energy, we need to make it economical. To achieve this, we will be focusing on reducing the installation cost and increasing the efficiency of solar panels.
3D Solar Panels
The 3-dimensional design maximises the conversion of solar energy into electric current. The benefits of having 3-dimensional design are higher efficiency and wide angle light...
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Diane Lefrandt. (2012, September 12). Solar3D unveils its working prototype at an event hosted by the Institute for Energy Efficiency. Retrieved from http://iee.ucsb.edu/solar3d
High Efficiency Design to Produce 200% of the Power Output of Conventional Solar Cells. (2010). Retrieved from http://solar3d.com/technology.php
Karin Zeitvogel (AFP). (2010, November 15). Oil will run out 100 years before new fuels developed: study. Retrieved from http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jv-QP6noOoD7u3wQqJG3xyvon-2Q?docId=CNG.c3a7214bcfe6083ee696ade4d9402691.6d1
Paul Denholm and Robert Margolis. (2008, November). Supply Curves for Rooftop Solar PV-Generated Electricity for the United States. Retrieved from http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy09osti/44073.pdf
Sam Baldwin. (2011, April 20). Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy: Challenges and Opportunities. SuperCluster Expo Colorado State University. U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved from http://energy.colostate.edu/docs/BaldwinTalkColoradoStateUniversity2011-04-20final.pdf
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