Solar Energy Future Development

About the future for solar power as an alternative energy source, possible developments and advances in techniques.



In the next few decades, solar energy could meet several decentralized energy needs:

* water heating: used in connection with or separate from space heating systems, solar water heaters already tend to be less expensive, over the lifetime of the system, then either gas or electric heaters;

* space heating and cooling: although the number of solar-heated and-cooled buildings is still minuscule, higher gas and oil prices along with government incentives may accelerate the spread of new solar buildings and the conversion of existing buildings to solar power (the 1977 Stanford Research Institute study predicted that solar energy "is likely to dominate the space-heating market for new construction as soon as the year 2000");

* irrigation pumps and similar agricultural and industrial devices.

If solar energy were to meet all U.S. space-heating, water-heating, and air-conditioning needs, it would account for roughly 25% of U.S. energy consumption--the goal set by ERDA for the year 2020.

Centralized collection of solar energy is almost certain to develop more slowly, although at least one solar electric power plant is expected to be operating in California by 1981. Sunlight can be converted into electricity:

* by photovoltaic conversion (solar cells absorb light to create an electrical voltage);

* by solar thermal conversion (lenses, curved mirrors, or other collectors concentrate solar radiation to produce heat to create steam for a turbogenerator);

* by ocean thermal conversion (using temperature differences in the sea to generate electrical energy).

Other proposals include using solar-generated electricity to produce hydrogen and a gigantic space station to collect electricity and transmit it to earth via microwave beam.

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