Solar Power Nothing New Under the Sun

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there is nothing new about solar technology.

"It probably started sometime in the 7th Century B.C. when people learned how to use glass and sunlight to light a fire. But today's sophisticated solar technologies include everything from solar-powered lights and buildings to solar-powered vehicles."

The Department of Energy (DOE) has approved $62 million to fund concentrating solar power research and development. Concentrating solar power technology is akin to the ancient practice of capturing the sun's energy as heat to produce power. In simplest terms it is much like using a magnifying glass to start a fire.

Some plants that produce concentrated solar power include places to store the energy so it can be used at a later time, such as at night.

The DOE says that the American southwest is in a unique position to harness this energy.

According to the Department of energy, here is what we should see in the future in regards to solar technologies:

"All our buildings will feature energy-efficient design, construction, and materials as well as renewable energy technologies. In effect, each building will both conserve energy and produce its own supply; to be one of a new generation of cost-effective "zero-energy buildings" that have no net annual need for nonrenewable energy."

In addition, research and development into photovoltaic technology (where sun is converted into energy) will improve.

"In a solar future, your mode of transportation - and even the clothes you wear - could produce clean, safe electric power."

At the University of Colorado, students built a model home that shows how we can live in energy-efficient solar homes in the future. They were participating in the Solar Decathlon, a competition sponsored by the DOE where colleges designed and built 500 to 800 square foot homes that were solar dependent.

In California, Sunline a transit company, added state-of-the-art hydrogen fuel cell buses to its fleet, said the DOE.

"Hydrogen is produced at the site using solar-powered electrolysis and natural gas reforming. Because fuel cell buses aren't yet commercially available, demonstration projects help us understand the technology better and plan for the future," according to the DOE.

California also boasts the world's largest solar power facility. Located near Kramer Junction, California the solar generating station produces 150 megawatts of power.

"At capacity, this is usually enough power for about 150,000 homes. The facility covers more than 1000 acres and has a collector surface area of more than a million square meters," according to the DOE.

Within about 10 years the cost of solar power will be comparable to electricity.

"Concentrating solar power, or solar thermal electricity, could harness enough of the sun's energy to provide large-scale, domestically secure, and environmentally friendly electricity, especially in the southwestern United States," said the website.

"The enormous solar power potential of the Southwest--comparable in scale to the huge hydropower resource of the Northwest--will be realized. A desert area 10 miles by 15 miles could provide 20,000 megawatts of power, and the electricity needs of the entire United States could theoretically be met by a photovoltaic array within an area 100 miles on a side. "

Frank Yocanis has been writing about solar energy for more than a decade. He is an expert on how solar power ( will enhance our world and our lives.

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