11. Alternative Energy - Solar Energy
by Larisa Redins
With all of the controversy surrounding the price of fuel and other electricity forms in recent times, solar energy is definitely increasing in popularity. However, just what is solar energy? Solar energy basically converts light from the sun into useable electricity. The amount of available light energy from the sun is of course dependent upon the current conditions – namely how many clouds there are in the sky and at what angle the sun is located in the sky. It is also important to keep in mind that the atmosphere reflects just about 6% of the sun’s light and also absorbs about 16% of the sun’s radiation. With that said though, there still is an overwhelming amount of energy to be utilized by consumers.
Why Should Consumers Use Solar Energy?
Solar energy is a renewable resource – individuals do not need to worry about the light from the sun being depleted anytime soon as in the case of fuel for instance. Solar energy is also pollution-free and does not require large resource intensive power stations to operate. Furthermore, the equipment used to capture the light energy from the sun requires little maintenance once all of the equipment is set up – not to mention that this form of energy is just about free once the costs from installing the solar equipment has been recouped.
“Solar energy is so promising because it is unlimited and absolutely clean,” concurs David Barclay, the Executive Director of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA). “The price has dropped dramatically in the past couple of decades and the more it is used, the more economical it will become.”
Solar energy is also extremely accessible to average individuals. A person can empower themselves and generate solar energy on their own without needing to rely on an external power source. This situation is especially beneficial in more remote areas.
“Producers of solar energy have many options: they can produce electricity using photovoltaic panels, or they can capture solar thermal energy and use it to heat water or air,” explains Alex Doukas, a Community Power Education Assistant with the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (OSEA).
How Can Consumers Capture This Light Energy?
One of the ways that consumers can capture solar energy is through the use of solar panels (or photovoltaic cells as they are more formally known). Photovoltaic cells are comprised of various semiconductors. When light - which is composed of photons - hits a semiconductor, this light then transfers its energy to that particular conductor. In order to make this system more efficient, often mirrors and other devices are utilized so that the light energy can be concentrated on a small area of photovoltaic cells. These “concentrators’ also make this solar energy option more affordable as the photovoltaic cells are often the most expensive component in this set-up.
Another method of solar power is similar to the common conventional way of generating electricity – except that this type of electricity does not involve the burning of other materials to generate the electricity. This system of generating electricity involves using reflective material or mirrors to concentrate the sun’s light energy on a reservoir of fluid. When the fluid boils, the resulting steam that is formed powers a turbine – which in turn generates electricity.
Consumers and producers alike can utilize the sun’s energy for conventional energy purposes. Once again, the sun’s light is concentrated using reflective material such as mirrors. These surfaces in turn concentrate the light on a ‘converter’, a device that consists of a heat engine and a generator. In most cases, this engine that is used is one that is called a Stirling engine – mainly because this engine is remarkably quiet. In these types of engines, there is gas in a small compartment – when this gas is heated, the gas, in turn, powers a generator … and voila! Energy is created.
What about Passive Solar Energy?
Passive solar energy in itself is an excellent way to cut costs on energy bills. Passive solar energy, itself, occurs when a particular house or other building is built in such a manner so that it avoids direct summer sunlight and captures low-angle winter sun. Some ways to help accomplish this goal is through strategic tree placement, using window overhangs, and utilizing the building mass to absorb the sun’s heat when the temperature is cooler.
“For those considering building a home, passive solar can offer a huge energy savings in and of itself, if combined with other green whole systems thinking design strategies,” asserts Barclay. “Some estimates indicate that energy consumption can be reduced by as much as 30% solely through properly designed passive solar strategies”.
Worried that Solar Energy Technology is Unsightly?
Well, people need not be worried about this problem as the aesthetics of these solar systems have increased substantially in recent years. In fact, solar energy technology is looking better than ever as there are now innovations that include solar panels that can be embedded in skylights or look like everyday shingles.
The Future of Solar Energy
The future of solar energy is looking more favorable than ever. As consumers continue to recognize solar energy as a viable renewable clean energy option, more people will utilize this technology. This increased usage will in turn result in lower solar equipment costs as the associated technologies continue to improve.
“Solar energy’s future is very bright. Today, the equivalent of 40 million households are already using solar hot water systems across the globe,” Doukas told Organic Producer. It is already a driving force behind the transition to a sustainable energy economy, and is now the fastest growing energy technology in the world, with solar panels now covering more than 400 000 rooftops worldwide”.
For some local resources about what is available in Michigan you can check out these groups.
12. Hey Michigan Farm Business Owners-Ever Consider Wind Power on Your Farm?!!
Mark Oliver and agencies
Friday January 26, 2007
[log in to unmask]">
Food imported to the UK by air may be denied the lucrative "organic" label under proposals being put forward today by the Soil Association.
The UK's main organic certification body is concerned about the "food miles" involved in importing goods by air, which, environmentalists argue, contribute to global warming.
Supermarkets typically charge more for food labelled organic and many customers are increasingly favouring goods which have not been treated with pesticides and other chemicals.
At its annual conference in Cardiff today, the Soil Association launched a one-year consultation on a proposal to ban the air-freighting of organic food, in the hope of cutting the associated carbon dioxide emissions.
The association's director, Patrick Holden, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "There is growing demand to reduce the carbon footprint of food distribution and we in the Soil Association take that very seriously."
He said the body's standards board would consider different labelling options, as well as carbon-offsetting plans as a way of managing the environmental impact of air-freighted food.
However, he said, "This initiative wouldn't have been taken if there wasn't a pretty strong chance that the standards board would eventually decide on a total ban."
In the past, most food labelled organic in UK shops was more likely to have been sourced relatively locally, typically from smaller farms. However, with the boom in popularity of organic food, bigger firms have become involved and the use of air transportation has grown, allowing some firms to sell food that is out of season locally.
Some commentators have argued that the changing nature of the supply of "organic" food, and the growing economies of scale, have effectively changed the term's meaning.
However, others argue that the energy used to produce food is also an important factor. They say, for example, that it could be better to import food produced efficiently in New Zealand, despite the food miles.
Mr Holden said one of the key issues during the consultation period would be the viability of fair-trade schemes that benefit farmers in the developing world by giving them direct access to developed world markets.