Solar power is widely promoted by worshipers of the God Helios as the way to solve our energy problems. In hearing the hype one would think that this is a new development. But wait, solar power has been, since the dawn of mankind, our main source of energy. It makes the planet habitable. In fact, almost all energy we use is from the sun or has come from the sun. Even wind energy is largely the result of differential heating by the sun of the earth’s surface (the balance comes from the rotation of the earth on its axis). Wave energy also comes mainly from the sun that unevenly heats the major bodies of water to cause the main ocean currents. Digging even deeper (pun intended) our fossil fuels were created by the sun millions of years ago. In a nutshell the sun already provides almost all our energy.
The amount of solar energy used to provide us with a liveable climate has never been calculated. Nor has the solar energy consumed in bringing rain to the land been calculated. But be sure, we consume far more solar power in these two elementary processes necessary for our very existence than the energy we obtain from all the fossil fuels we use.
The current hoopla about solar power is slightly misrepresented. What these sun promoters are really saying is let us use the sun even more, either by increasing its availabilty or our efficiency in using it. The focus is on solar panels, either to heat water to use in our homes, or, more typically, to convert into electric power.
Well converting sun power into electricty is a very costly and still largely a primative enterprise. First of all we need most of our electricity for when and where the sun don’t shine. Electric lights were invented to light the dark, not light the light. Thus, we not only have to collect the sun for making the electricity, we also have to store the electricity for when the sun is not present.
That being said, there is every reason to make our use of sun power even more efficient and if converting it to electricity helps, then yes, do it. but in an efficient way. The current systems (again pun intended) don’t seem to be very efficient.
And while we are on the subject we should remember that most fossil fuel is burned to create electricity, since this is the most convenient way to transfer energy to so many tasks, e.g. machinery for industry, appliances in the home, light where there is dark, heat where there is cold and so on. The only major area where electric power is less useful is transportation. Yes, there are metros and trains that fun on electric power. Even our largest ships run on electricty from nuclear reactors. But our autos, trucks and airplanes don’t since it is hard to run a wire to them.
Getting electricity to run more of our transporation is a good goal. And there are several approaches to doing this. One is to directly convert solar power into electricity to run a car or airplane or boat. Another is to store electricity in batteries to use in vehicles. I, however, favor transmitting electricity to vehicles on our roads via common souces. The most promising technology here is transmitting electricity by radio waves.
Since electricity is the most efficient method so far devised to transmit energy to the use, we should continue to explore ways to generate electricity more efficiently. However, I don’t believe direct conversion from solar power to electricity is very efficient. But who knows?