Renewable energy is an invaluable resource that lets us harness the natural world around us in order to keep civilization as we know it running. It comes with the added benefits of ensuring our imprint on the environment is as small as possible, along with providing us with virtually unlimited sources of power. While wind and hydro power are quite useful in and of themselves, the mainstay of renewable and environmentally-friendly energy has always been solar power.
Your run-of-the-mill solar panel uses the power of sunlight (specifically, photons present in sunlight) in order to create electricity. Most solar panels are made up of energy collecting material, usually made up of multiple layers of different metals. When photons hit the top layer, they knock electrons out of place like billiard balls, and as the electrons flow, an electric charge is made. And as long as we have access to the sun, solar panels can keep the charge going.
Solar power is getting big now. More and more companies and cities are relying on it to power their homes and industries. Part of the reason why this is happening is that solar panels are becoming easier to install. Gone are the days where you needed dedicated space to install a solar farm. As collecting energy has become more efficient, less surface area, and thus less space, is needed. This in turn means that solar panels are more accessible to the private sector.
And in the near future, we’ll have solar cells that you can carry around in your pocket. The startup company mPower Technology is working on making miniature solar energy collectors. They work in a similar way as the big solar panels, but are made up of “solar cells” that keep the collectors both better at taking in and storing energy, and are as flexible as a playing card.
So what does all of this mean? The use of solar power is growing exponentially, and solar energy is becoming a bigger part of our economy. New York City has seen an 800 percent increase in the use of solar energy since 2011, thanks to initiatives like the Clean Energy Standard, which calls for 50 percent of the city’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2030. Japan is dedicated to building the world’s largest floating solar plant, and almost 90 percent of power in Europe is coming from solar and other renewable resources.
This also means that the solar industry is a good investment when it comes to job opportunities. Currently in the U.S., solar jobs outnumber coal jobs two-to-one. Most of these jobs are labor intensive, with a large percentage being installation. About 50,000 industry jobs were added to the economy thanks to solar energy in 2016.
Harnessing the power of the sun is no new development, but goes back to the early age of human civilization, and is even built into our biology. Ultimately, all energy on earth comes from the sun in one way or another. Embracing solar power is as natural as eating, and the world is absolutely hungry for more sun.