What Is Solar Power Anyhow?
The thought that all energy sources are in competition with one another has bothered me for some time. I submit there might be an argument that all of them are actually solar electricity. In short, every source of energy on Earth is the result of solar energy being saved for later use, just like a giant battery. May we consider the following as examples of solar energy in its various forms?
Solar panels catch photons of light which are directly converted to electric current to be used immediately or stored in a battery for later distribution. This is the most direct use of solar energy and what most people consider”solar energy.”
Hydro electric power, in use since antiquity, leverages water’s tendency flow down hill. Humans discovered in ancient times if we channel and focus the energy, stored in high elevation lakes we could leverage its power. In contemporary times a dam is built and water flow is directed through a turbine of some sort to create electricity. If you think that water is deposited at a high elevation lake as the result of solar energy evaporating water at lower elevations and condensing it in a higher elevation, its potential energy is merely the result of solar energy; just one step removed.
Wind power, used for millennia, is a method of capturing natural air movements and harnessing it as a source of power. As air passes through the blades of a wind mill it’s converted to mechanical energy which turns a generator creating electricity that is distributed to where it’s needed. What we call wind is merely air that’s forced to move due to the heating and cooling cycle brought on by solar energy. As the sun bombards one portion of the planet with heat other parts are cool. Again, it’s solar energy just one or two steps removed from the source.
Petroleum created when plants absorb energy from sunlight. During photosynthesis plants absorb sunlight energy and use it to convert hydrogen and carbon into the hydrocarbon atoms that nourish their biological processes. As plants die they become part of the biomass that is under our feet. Over time the dead plants are covered with soil, compressed, heated and processed to become what we know as oil, coal and shale. Over time plants become the condensed and highly concentrated hydrocarbons that fuel our economy. This too is a form of solar energy just several times removed from the source.
Consider that even wood is a source of solar power. This just shortens the process by one step as compared to using hydrocarbons. It is a source that is only a couple of steps removed from the solar energy emanating from our sun.
An argument can even be made that nuclear energy and geothermal began with a burst of energy from the sun in the start of time. Since the planets were forming sunlight sent huge amounts of energy and heavy elements into the core of our earth. What we know of as atomic gas is but the remnants of that formation procedure. This is, possibly the oldest source of solar energy.
Here is the point. If we deplete the source faster than it is replenished the”battery” will run dry and our economy will grind to a halt. As we engage in conversation about the future of our energy needs it makes sense to me that we strive to discover the longest lived source of energy with the least damaging long term impact so we can all enjoy the benefits and prosperity which our planet offers.
Could there be some advantage from many advocates gathering together under a single banner to find the best solution to our energy needs? I leave it up to them to think about this question and make a decision on how to leverage their time and energy.