April 29, 2017

Sun Powered: A Sustainable Future is Near


 Solar energy is one of fastest growing tech fields out today. Every day new designs for more efficiency, different applications, and related tech aspects are coming out. Solar panels nowadays are commonly thought of as strictly being on building roofs. But everyday items such as watches, calculators and other electronics use them as well. Some new styles of eco-friendly cars have solar panels on the roof to keep the car cool in the summer, heat the car up in winter, and to generally save on overall battery consumption. Solar energy has many benefits but still has a few factors that need to be solved to be more sustainable.  

Solar panels on residential homes have become increasingly popular in the recent years as more and more people are aware of their environmental impact. Solar panels on houses allow for a lower electric bill or even no electric bill at all! The common way that solar panels are hooked up allows for any excess electricity to be put back into the power grid. The power that is sent out can be sold to the highest bidding power company and the individual owner profits. Solar panels can be used to power a whole house indefinitely with the correct sunlight exposure and the right amount of batteries to store power. The more houses that rely on their own electricity means less reliance on environmentally damaging power plants. New solar panel designs and ideas include siding for houses, roadway material, and solar panels that are flexible.

There are many solar panel designs that are on a smaller scale also. Laptops, tablets, and cell phones can be charged on various solar panel set ups that are roughly the same dimensions as your standard piece of paper. Various watch companies have designed their watch faces with solar panels, allowing the watch battery to be charged naturally. There are even solar backup generators to run a whole house when the main power goes out.

Sadly, the production of solar panels is still an environmentally damaging process. The cells that absorb the Sun’s energy are made of conflict minerals which are essentially the same as conflict/”blood” diamonds. This problem with conflict minerals is something present in all electronics that are produced today since there is no good process in place to effectively recycle and reuse electronic equipment. Refining the minerals takes water and energy, the mineral purification process uses harsh chemicals and there are multiple other negative factors. In a study conducted among over 30 solar panel companies, there were only roughly 5 solar panel manufacturing companies that scored for high sustainability practices. One of the standout solar panel companies is SunPower, which is one of the few solar companies with Cradle to Cradle certification, meaning from creation to destruction all practices are safe for humans and the environment.

The future of energy production is looking greener in multiple ways. Wind, water and geothermal turbines are being redesigned for maximum efficiency and less environmental impact. The future of power is also being influenced by hemp. One of the hottest aspects of the market is the need for materials that are superconductors, meaning they can quickly recharge and release energy. The current material that is being considered is called graphene which is expensive and environmentally harmful to produce. But scientists have looked at hemp fibers and and through refinement processes have made hemp into a material that can be used as a superconductor. With more research being done daily, the foreseeable future will hopefully have hemp as the foundation of all electronics. ‘TIl next type - M.

Written by Michael Dour