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Should We Power Our Lives with the Borderland Sunshine?

Weather Talk
Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - 12:30pm

El Paso is the 4th sunniest City in the U.S. with plenty of available solar energy!

El Paso is one of the sunniest cities in the United States with an annual percentage of sunshine 83.8%. El Paso is the 4th sunniest city in the U.S.! I was reading these facts from the El Paso National Weather Service Climate page and I started thinking about “Solar Energy”. My neighbors, Ed and Margaret have solar panels on their roof. They power their house with the sun! Many people heat their house and water from solar systems as well. Pretty cool stuff! In today’s “Weather Talk” I will talk about what solar energy is, how it is harnessed and a bit on how we can save money.

According to National Geographic scientists “Every hour the sun beams onto Earth more than enough energy to satisfy global energy needs for an entire year. Solar energy is the technology used to harness the sun's energy and make it useable. Today, the technology produces less than one tenth of one percent of global energy demand.”
Many of us are familiar with so-called photovoltaic cells, or solar panels, found on things like spacecraft, rooftops, and handheld calculators. The cells are made of semiconductor materials like those found in computer chips. When sunlight hits the cells, it knocks electrons loose from their atoms. As the electrons flow through the cell, they generate electricity."

If we expand this out to a much lager scale, solar thermal power plants employ various techniques to concentrate the sun's energy as a heat source. The heat is then used to boil water to drive a steam turbine that generates electricity in much the same fashion as coal and nuclear power plants, supplying electricity for thousands of people.

In one technique, long troughs of U-shaped mirrors focus sunlight on a pipe of oil that runs through the middle. The hot oil then boils water for electricity generation. Another technique uses moveable mirrors to focus the sun's rays on a collector tower, where a receiver sits. Molten salt flowing through the receiver is heated to run a generator.

Other solar technologies are passive. For example, big windows placed on the sunny side of a building allow sunlight to heat-absorbent materials on the floor and walls. These surfaces then release the heat at night to keep the building warm. Similarly, absorbent plates on a roof can heat liquid in tubes that supply a house with hot water.
Solar energy is lauded as an inexhaustible fuel source that is pollution and often noise free. The technology is also versatile. For example, solar cells generate energy for far-out places like satellites in Earth orbit and remote cabins deep in the Rocky Mountains as easily as they can power downtown buildings and futuristic cars.

But solar energy doesn't work at night without a storage device such as a battery, and cloudy weather can make the technology unreliable during the day. Solar technologies are also very expensive and require a lot of land area to collect the sun's energy at rates useful to lots of people.

Despite the drawbacks, solar energy use has surged at about 20 percent a year over the past 15 years, thanks to rapidly falling prices and gains in efficiency. Japan, Germany, and the United States are major markets for solar cells. With tax incentives, solar electricity can often pay for itself in five to ten years.

The largest solar power plant in the world is located in the Mojave Desert in California, covering 1000 acres. Nine solar plants built in the 1980s in the Mojave Desert near Barstow, California, have a combined generating capacity of 354 megawatts (MW), making them the largest operating solar installation in the world. They produce enough electricity for the needs of about one-half million people.

A single Air Force base in Nevada has saved $83,000 A MONTH since it switched from using traditional energy sources to solar energy produced on site.

The average US taxpayer pays almost 100 times as much in subsidies for fossil fuels as he does for solar energy.
One year’s worth of solar energy on one acre of land in West Texas equals the energy of 800 barrels of oil. Texas has more solar energy potential than any other U.S. state.

The next you are walking and the sun warms your face or you get inside your sun warmed vehicle, think about solar power. We can conserve our natural resources and power our lives while spending less money. Sounds like an excellent deal and that we have a bright, sunlight powered future!
To learn more about the sun read my “Weather Talk”;
Does Solar Activity Affect Our Weather? http://www.ktsm.com/weather/weather-talk/does-solar-activity-affect-our-...

Chuck DeBroder, Chief Meteorologist
KTSM, NewsChannel 9, NBC, El Paso, TX
cdebroder@ktsm.com
www.facebook.com/Charles-DeBroder
www.twitter.com/ Chuck DeBroder NC9 @wxchuckNC9
 

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