Solar Cell Technology as the Solution to Climate Change
As the approximately 4.6 billion-year-old Earth continues to embark into the modern era, it has faced many challenges along the way. It is currently in the midst of one of them; Climate change and global warming are the new dilemmas faced by the Earth. It’s a cycle, as more humans begin to inhabit the Earth, more greenhouse gasses are emitted and released into the atmosphere, thus, not allowing the sun’s rays to escape it. This raises the Earth’s average temperature and begins to cause climate change. Temperatures continuing to rise, frost-free seasons lengthening, changes in precipitation patterns, and rising sea levels (Callary et al., 2019), are all examples of this. However, to combat these evident changes in the environment, many solutions have been discussed, some clearer and more promising than others.
This graph above presented by NASA, provides evidence that the levels of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide have been fluctuating from about 800,000 years before 1950 to the present day. Moreover, it shows us the overall extreme rate and trend it has been following since 1950, which is ascending at an exponential rate. The degree of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere has passed a level never crossed in the recent history of the Earth. All of this simply signifies that action must be taken.
Solar panels can help fight greenhouse gas emissions, and also diminish our reliance on fossil fuels. They provide clean energy sourced from the sun whereas in many regions across the world, even in North America, energy is gained from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal (Holowka, 2017) and given that solar panels require little burning and in broader terms, don’t have a significant impact on climate or global temperature when they function, they are largely considered one of the best solutions to these issues. Solar panels also improve public health through the use of renewable energy sources for cleaner air and increase employment rates through the creation of jobs to maintain these devices.
It is essential to understand how solar panels work, so we can employ them to our advantage. Solar panels are made from multiple solar cells, which operate by using electrical devices that convert the energy of light directly into electricity through the photovoltaic effect (Dhar, 2017). Firstly, solar cells are otherwise known as “photovoltaic cells”, they are connected electrically, and are the tiny “pods” seen inside the solar panel. They are made out of silicon, which is a semiconductor, it absorbs the energy from the sun, which is later transferred into direct current electricity and through the use of an inverter, the current switches to an alternate current. From there, it can be distributed. This process is otherwise referred to as the “Photovoltaic Effect”. When a large number of solar panels are put into a big group, they are considered a solar farm and can produce massive amounts of clean, renewable, electricity and energy.
The most evident concern with solar panels and farms is the vast economic challenge of supporting this technology. Based on the several negative factors about solar panels such as their weather dependency, their constant need for maintenance, and of course cost, solar panels aren’t used regularly in most regions. Especially when considering cost, there are a lot of factors that vary its price, primarily, the price per watt of electricity, which is essentially the cost of power. In Canada, costs range from $2.28/w to $4.50/w, (Energy Hub, 2019), it depends on the region. However, this would equate to roughly 16,000 U.S. dollars for a residential solar panel, solar farms cost upwards of 1 million U.S. dollars. In first world countries, it is already financially difficult to support these devices, so it is easily inferred that applying solar cell technologies in third-world countries becomes almost impossible. This makes it problematic for regions that receive lots of sunlight but little income, as it almost seems like a waste of precious, clean power. This causes regions to continue to burn fossil fuels for energy, something that as stated before, has caused pollution for many years.
This figure below, presented by EnergyHub, shows the cost of power in all provinces and territories of Canada. It shows us the base and highest price of power, in all regions of Canada from Ontario to Nunavut ($2.28- $4.50). Green generally means that it is affordable and realistic, whereas warmer colours, such as orange and red signify that it is not.
Although the economic implications of acquiring and utilizing solar panels are definitely a major issue, it should also be considered how we are going to distribute the energy accordingly. Many regions have something called “the grid” it is essentially a very convoluted system of pipes, wires, and electric stands all sharing and transporting energy to an assortment of areas (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2019). This can form an impact on the environment due to the land use these transportation methods require, which can provoke habitat loss and further consequences. Another manner in which these solar farms and panels, in general, can be impactful on the environment, is their manufacturing process. Although when solar panels function, they use little water, they do use water when they are being manufactured. If more panels and farms need to be built, more water would need to be used, and that would put a strain on one of the world’s already rapidly depleting resources - fresh water. Despite the fact that solar panels are a great concept, they often have some pre-manufacturer and post-manufacturer effects, although not directly linked to solar cell technologies, they still foster a considerable impact on the environment.
Regardless of the fact that there are some negative effects that come with solar power technology, it is important to acknowledge the positive effects as well. As we’ve already discussed, they produce high quality, renewable energy and their applications are incredibly variant, they can be used for transportation, lighting, power banks, and even heating through the use of thermal energy, (Richardson, 2018). The heat produced by Solar Panels can be used for many things, from heating an engine in a car all the way to separating salt from seawater (Torino, 2019). Either way, it is definitely agreed that solar panels can achieve amazing things. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, designed a revolutionary product concept in May of 2016, named the solar roof, it was made to combat the contrast of solar panels on residential roofs and to have a better integration system into the home. It was fundamentally a roof tile, with solar cells built-in. More and more people are attempting to use solar panels and build more solar farms. Nevertheless, it is still not completely integrated into our society.
When evaluating the applications of solar cell technology, it’s crucial to understand both perspectives on the idea. Solar panels are an incredible solution to the problems we currently face, they provide both renewable and clean energy that can be used virtually anywhere. However, because of their immense economic challenges and their indirect environmental impacts, solar panels are currently in the middle stage, where they are more than just a prototype or concept, however, they are not fully used. They will not be in full use until the previously identified challenges are resolved, this would mean tackling those previously named issues for the integration of these devices into our daily lives. Solar cell technology is incredibly imaginative and truly a remarkable technological advancement, it possesses a lot of potentials, but, it is up to us, how that potential is used.