SOLAR ENERGY — THE ENERGY OF THE FUTURE? About 47 per cent of the energy that the sun releases to the earth actually reaches the ground. About a third is reflected directly back into space by the atmosphere. The time in which solar energy is available, is also the time we least need it least – daytime. Because the sun’s energy cannot be stored for use another time, we need to convert the suns energy into an energy that can be stored. One possible method of storing solar energy is by heating water that can be insulated.
The water is heated by passing it through hollow panels. Black-coated steal plates are used because dark colours absorb heat more efficiently. However this method only supplies enough energy for activities such as washing and bathing. The solar panels generate “low grade” heat, that is, they generate low temperatures for the amount of heat needed in a day. In order to generate “high grade” heat, intense enough to convert water into high-pressure steam which can then be used to turn electric generators there must be another method. The concentrated beams of sunlight are collected in a device called a solar furnace, which acts on the same principles as a large magnifying glass.
The solar furnace takes the sunlight from a large area and by the use of lenses and mirrors can focus the light into a very small area. Very elaborate solar furnaces have machines that angle the mirrors and lenses to the sun all day. This system can provide sizeable amounts of electricity and create extremely high temperatures of over 6000 degrees Fahrenheit. Solar energy generators are very clean, little waste is emitted from the generators into the environment. The use of coal, oil and gasoline is a constant drain, economically and environmentally. Will solar energy be the wave of the future? Could the worlds requirement of energy be fulfilled by the “powerhouse” of our galaxy – the sun? Automobiles in the future will probably run on solar energy, and houses will have solar heaters.